About That Op-ed in the Charlotte Observer By PEFNC – If NC’s Voucher System Is Working, Then Really Prove It

This week the Charlotte Observer carried an op-ed penned by the interim president of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina (PEFNC) Brian Jodice entitled “Public money for private school scholarships is working, and will soon expand dramatically” (https://www.charlotteobserver.com/opinion/op-ed/article215498550.html).

The premise of the piece is celebratory as explained in the first line:

“Thursday marks the anniversary of a major victory in the fight for educational freedom in North Carolina.”

Five years ago, the NCGA opened up the Opportunity Grants or as many would call them vouchers which take public taxpayer money and funnel it to private schools.

If Jodice wants to declare victory for choice, then that is his privilege. Yes, almost 7400 students use the vouchers, but in his claim of victory that is his only real hard piece of evidence to draw upon. That, and the fact that he has an NCGA that is bent on throwing money at vouchers even though they have not been proved overall as effective.

Jodice took over for Darrell Allison who recently joined the American Federation For Children, a school choice advocacy group in Washington D.C. founded by none other than Betsy DeVos. And like Allison, Jodice has to cheer-lead for the PEFNC, even if it means negating the lack of substance about how well the voucher system is doing in North Carolina.

Almost a year ago, Lindsay Wagner wrote a piece for the AJ Fletcher Foundation entitled “Are publicly-funded private school vouchers helping low-income kids? We don’t know” that  showcased one of the primary redundancies purposefully used by funded “school choice” advocates in the quest to make sure that the best way to argue for “freedom in choosing schools” in North Carolina is to control what information parents have in “choosing” educational avenues for their students.

Wagner focused much of her article on the most vocal proponent of the school choice movement in North Carolina at that time – Darrell Allison, the then-leader of PEFNC. She raised a rather glaring inconsistency when it came to whether vouchers were really helping low-income students.

The leader of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina, Darrell Allison, said recently that school vouchers aren’t likely to hurt children from low-income households who use them. But he couldn’t say definitively that the voucher program actually helps these children, either.

Why? Because despite the fact that North Carolina spends millions of taxpayers’ dollars each year on vouchers, we have no meaningful data that can tell us if this is an effective way to help poor students who deserve a high quality education (http://ajf.org/publicly-funded-private-school-vouchers-helping-low-income-kids-dont-know/).

It makes one wonder if Jodice has a better explanation for what Allison could not really explain. Other than money from the NCGA and people who are taking the money, the fact still stands that NC’s voucher program is not regulated and can not be measured.

Last year, Duke University released a rather damning report on the Opportunity Grants in NC. The entire report can be found here:  https://law.duke.edu/childedlaw/School_Vouchers_NC.pdf.

It would be interesting to see if Jodice , who uses the editorial page of what might be the biggest newspaper in the state to tout the voucher system, could refute or explain the following excerpted observations:

  • Approximately 93% of the vouchers have been used to pay tuition at religious schools (3).
  • Based on limited and early data, more than half the students using vouchers are performing below average on nationally-standardized reading, language, and math tests. In contrast, similar public school students in NC are scoring above the national average (3).
  • The North Carolina voucher program is well designed to promote parental choice, especially for parents who prefer religious education for their children. It is poorly designed, however, to promote better academic outcomes for children and is unlikely to do so (3).
  • Previous research on North Carolina private schools in general showed that more than 30% of private schools in North Carolina are highly segregated (more than 90% of students of one race) and 80% enroll more than half of the same race.10 Without data on racial enrollments in voucher schools, it is not clear whether vouchers contribute to school segregation. Because of the overall data on private schools, however, the voucher program may well be contributing to increasing school segregation (7).
  • Of the participating schools, less than 20% were secular schools; more than 80% were religious schools. This does not line up exactly with the percentages of vouchers used at religious schools versus secular schools (93% at religious schools), because several religious schools enrolled large numbers of students (8).
  • The most typical size for a participating school is between 100 and 250 students. However, 33 schools (7%) have ten or fewer students, with another 42 (9%) enrolling 20 or fewer students. Together, that means that nearly a fifth of the schools accepting vouchers have total enrollments of 20 or fewer students (8).
  • Although it is not an “apples-to-apples” comparison, the most recent data shows that comparable students who remained in public schools are scoring better than the voucher students on national tests (12).
  • In comparison to most other states, North Carolina’s general system of oversight of private schools is weak. North Carolina’s limited oversight reflects a policy decision to leave the quality control function primarily to individual families. Under North Carolina law, private schools are permitted to make their own decisions regarding curriculum, graduation requirements, teacher qualifications, number of hours/days of operation, and, for the most part, testing. No accreditation is required of private schools (13).
  • Unlike some laws, the law creating the Opportunity Scholarship Grant Program does not set out its purpose (15).
  • In fact, there is no requirement that the participating private schools meet any threshold of academic quality. Thus, to the extent that the program was established to provide options for better academic outcomes for children, nothing in the program’s design assures or even promotes that outcome (15-16).
  • THE LEGISLATIVE DECISION TO EXEMPT VOUCHER STUDENTS FROM PARTICIPATING IN THE STANDARD STATE END-OF-GRADE TESTS MEANS THAT NO RESEARCHER WILL EVER BE ABLE TO MAKE AN “APPLES-TO-APPLES” COMPARISON BETWEEN PUBLIC SCHOOL AND VOUCHER STUDENTS (18).
  • The North Carolina program allows for participation in the program by children who are not in failing schools and by private schools that do not offer a more academically promising education (19).

The positively charged diction that Jodice uses in his op-ed doesn’t seem to drown out the cold reality of that study.

Jodice’s reference to the recent NC State study is probably the biggest indicator that what he pins his hope upon to verify the validity of the voucher program is not stable at all. And it should not be worthy of praise because he deliberately misspeaks what the conclusion of that study was.

He said,

Early academic evaluation is encouraging. In June, independent researchers from NC State University released findings from the first-ever academic analysis of the program, revealing “large, positive impacts” on student achievement associated with using a scholarship. Follow-up studies are needed, but this early report card represents very good news.

Even the people who conducted the study cautioned against drawing conclusions. This is from  WUNC – http://www.wunc.org/post/researchers-say-nc-voucher-program-needs-closer-look-they-can-give#stream/0.

study

That sample they used? Over half were from established Catholic schools in NC which represent in reality a very small percentage of the voucher recipient pool. In fact, that study has been attacked so much from non-academics that it begs to ask why it was done in the first place. That’s how many holes it has.

Yes, there will be students who are successful who use the vouchers. The student that Jodice highlights is one of them. But while the student may be successful does not mean that the program is successful because measuring the effects of the voucher system in comparison to traditional public schools is impossible.

It’s meant that way.

NC’s voucher system is by far the least regulated in the country. Back to the Duke report:

Duke study

That’s very telling. The lack of measurables in NC’s voucher program allows for Jodice to make claims that while sparkling carry no real substance.

Just like his op-ed.

 

About That NC State Study on NC’s Voucher Program – It’s Paid For Propaganda

A June 2nd report in the News & Observer by Ned Barnett entitled “Three out of four N.C. voucher schools fail on curriculum” highlighted the findings of the NC Chapter of the League of Women Voters on the state’s voucher program.

It states,

Fundamentalist Christian schools are receiving most of the money from North Carolina’s 4-year-old school voucher program, but they’re not providing anything close to the “sound basic education” the state Constitution promises to North Carolina’s children, according to a new report from the League of Women Voters.

The League said in announcing its findings that “77 percent of private schools receiving vouchers are using curricula that do not comply with state standards, leaving many students unprepared for college-level coursework or careers in certain fields” (http://amp.newsobserver.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/ned-barnett/article212352824.html?__twitter_impression=true).

That’s not flattering. Couple that with the less than flattering report done by Duke University’s Children’s Law Center called SCHOOL VOUCHERS IN NORTH CAROLINA : THE FIRST THREE YEARS. That report can be found here: https://law.duke.edu/childedlaw/School_Vouchers_NC.pdf.

Duke study

That Duke report summarized the following:

  • Approximately 93% of the vouchers have been used to pay tuition at religious schools (3).
  • Of the participating schools, less than 20% were secular schools; more than 80% were religious schools.
  • The most typical size for a participating school is between 100 and 250 students. However, 33 schools (7%) have ten or fewer students, with another 42 (9%) enrolling 20 or fewer students. Together, that means that nearly a fifth of the schools accepting vouchers have total enrollments of 20 or fewer students (8).
  • Although it is not an “apples-to-apples” comparison, the most recent data shows that comparable students who remained in public schools are scoring better than the voucher students on national tests (12).
  • In comparison to most other states, North Carolina’s general system of oversight of private schools is weak. (13).

Then today, NC State released another evaluation of the Opportunity Grants Program. It is entitled ““An Impact Analysis of North Carolina’s Opportunity Scholarship Program on Student Achievement.” A link to the report can be found on EdNC.org (https://www.ednc.org/2018/06/04/researchers-release-an-impact-analysis-of-north-carolinas-opportunity-scholarship-program-on-student-achievement/).

It states that there are “large positive impacts associated with voucher usage in North Carolina.”

Hard to put these two recent reports next to each other and not have some questions. One says that the curriculum taught by most voucher recipient schools do not even compare with the state curriculum. The other says that the vouchers have created positive impacts in student test scores.

There may be some who will argue that together these reports prove a Biblical-based curriculum is best for students and for test scores. But that is hard to fathom because there are some aspects of the NC State Study that do not hold enough weight to be scientifically sound.

When reading about the recruitment of the students to be used in the study, the researchers relied heavily on the Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina (PEFNC). From page 11 of the report:

ncstate1

That reads “the bulk of recruitment support was ultimately provided” by PEFNC. To say that PEFNC has an extreme bias as to needing to show a positive spin on vouchers is an understatement – a giant understatement.

Relying on PEFNC to provide a scientifically sounding random sample to use in the study is not a very sound move. Consider last summer’s report by Lindsey Wagner, then of the AJ Fletcher Foundation.

Entitled “Are publicly-funded private school vouchers helping low-income kids? We don’t know”, Wagner’s piece showcases one of the primary redundancies purposefully used by funded “school choice” advocates like PEFNC. Her article focused much on the most vocal proponent of the school choice movement in North Carolina – Darrell Allison, then the leader of PEFNC (Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina).

To say that he is still one of the most influential non-law maker on educational reform in the state is not a stretch; his recent appointment to the UNC Board of Governors and his ability to lobby lawmakers in Raleigh certainly gives him more clout than most pro-public school legislators on West Jones Street.

Wagner raised a rather glaring inconsistency when it comes to whether vouchers are really helping low-income students.

The leader of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina, Darrell Allison, said recently that school vouchers aren’t likely to hurt children from low-income households who use them. But he couldn’t say definitively that the voucher program actually helps these children, either (http://ajf.org/publicly-funded-private-school-vouchers-helping-low-income-kids-dont-know/).

On February 15th, 2018 Darrell Allison was chosen to assume a leadership position with AFC, the Betsy DeVos – founded school choice advocacy group in Washington D.C. known as the American Federation For Children. Allison is also on the board of Achievement for All Children (AAC) which now has been hired to oversee the Innovation School District for North Carolina.

PEFNC needs this study to work for them – IN THE WORST WAY. Too much is at stake.

Go back to the original data table from the beginning of this post.

Duke study

It seems very difficult to even “quantify” the effectiveness of the NC voucher system when the oversight of it from the state level is so porous. Therefore, allowing a group like PEFNC to control what can be quantified in this study skews the results.

Yes, the study does mention that there is more to be investigated, but why publish this when that is the case? Besides the students “recruited” for this study do not even represent a random sample. Ann Doss Helms from the Charlotte Observer reported on the NC State Study. She stated,

Just over half of the voucher schools that participated in the study were Catholic, while only 10 percent of all schools receiving North Carolina vouchers are Catholic (http://amp.charlotteobserver.com/news/local/education/article211941074.html?__twitter_impression=true).

Over half of the students “recruited” by PEFNC were from a select number of schools that represent less than 10 percent of voucher schools.

That’s not random. That’s excessively controlled.

Established schools in the North Carolina diocese have been proven to be very competitive academically. But do not think that a private school does not have the ability to pretest a potential student to see if he/she can handle the rigors of a strong curriculum. Those pretests are the part of many admission requirements.

Public schools take in all students. Private schools do not. Competitive private schools that have a history of excellence do not have to accept just any student.

To allow the PEFNC to heavily facilitate the “recruitment” of students to use in the study suggests too much of a leap of faith in another biased organization’s ability to be totally objective.

It’s just not scientifically valid. But look who funded the study.

ncstate2

The Walton Family Foundation.

And the Walton Family Foundation is not financing a study unless the study says what the Walton Foundation wants it to say.

They are not alone.

ncstate3

When one adds the Walton Foundation, Art Pope, and PEFNC together, the sum is not scientific integrity and objectivity.

It’s propaganda.

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

Our public schools are better than you may think.

Probably a lot better.

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

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

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

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

Last week DeVos tweeted the following:

What she did not say was that:

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

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

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

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

Consider the following picture/graph:

schools 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

schools 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Look at the graphic below:

graph1

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

Consider the following national entities:

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

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

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

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

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

First, consider the national scene.

graph11

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

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

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

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

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

Or do they?

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

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

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

More from Schneider:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part of that national scene includes three charter school chains.

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

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

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

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

Now consider North Carolina.

graph3

Those numbers correspond to:

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

Go back to Charter Schools USA.

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

graph5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remember this?

graph6

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

Now look at that first map again:

graph1

Hopefully, it makes a little more sense.

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

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

Also look at this timeline:

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

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

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

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

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

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

And we in NC get this:

graph4

Simply put, the privatization of the public school system.

The New North Carolina State Report Cards And What They Really Show

“The transformation of our public education system will open true pathways out of poverty.”

 – Mark Johnson, September 7th, 2016 from an op-ed entitled “Our American Dream” (https://www.ednc.org/2016/09/07/our-american-dream/).

 

This week State Superintendent of Public Schools Mark Johnson presented a new school report card interface and “updated features” so that the public can view school report cards (https://ncreportcards.ondemand.sas.com/src/index). It has a lot of bells and whistles.

The letter attached to its new release by Johnson seems well-meaning. The text can be found here – http://www.ncpublicschools.org/src/welcome/.

Yet, no matter how much glitter and glam can be used to create an interface that appeals to the eyes, it doesn’t cover up the fact that there really is so much more that makes up a school than a school report card in this state chooses to measure.

Yes, Johnson does make note in his letter that there is more to a school than a “grade.” He states,

“As a former teacher, I can tell you this information, while important, cannot tell you the entire story of a school. These facts and figures cannot voice the extra hours put in by your teachers preparing for class and grading assignments, the school spirit felt by families, the involvement in sports, arts, or other extracurriculars that build character, and other crucial aspects of a school community.”

But the school report cards still do not reflect those very considerations that give a school so much of its identity and define its true outreach to the students and the communities they serve. In fact, that is one of the many glaring items deficiencies that come to mind when reviewing the new interface.

  1. It totally ignores the fact that what affects so many schools is POVERTY.

As soon as one accesses the site, a map of the state is shown.

Picture1

One can then drill down from there. But one has to wonder if there is any measurement of certain socio-economic trends besides the number of kids on free and reduced lunches.

What about the effects of the gerrymandering that has occurred in recent years in the drawing of districts? What about how the unconstitutional VOTER ID law affected how people could vote and put representatives in Raleigh who would fight more for their students?

EdNC.org has a useful tool on its site called the Data Dashboard. You can find it here – https://www.ednc.org/data/.  Take the time to peruse this resource if public education is a top issue for you.

Here is a dot map of the 2014-2015 school performance grade map for the state (https://www.ednc.org/2015/08/03/consider-it-mapped-and-school-grades/) .

Picture2

Take notice of the pink and burgundy dots. Those are schools in the “D” and “F” category.

Now look at a map from the dashboard for Free and Reduced lunch eligibility for the same year.

Picture3

If you could somehow superimpose those two images, you might some frighteningly congruent correlations.

What if that capability was allowed within the new interface of the school report cards?

Now take a look again at the quote from Mark Johnson at the beginning of this posting:

“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. Besides showing people how many textbooks there are per student (which is probably not correct as school systems are constantly shuffling textbooks around to cover the needs), what about the per capita measurements?

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. This revamped site seems to totally ignore that.

And maybe Johnson’s revamped school report site should also include this graph.

Picture4

That is from the 2015–16 Performance and Growth of North Carolina Public Schools Executive Summary, NC DPI.

  1. This site is being used as a way to promote more privatization through the veiled crusade of SCHOOL CHOICE.

Mark Johnson is about “school choice.” He has said so.

Those school performance grades that appear so quickly when one drills down on a district are based on a model developed by Jeb Bush when he was in Florida. It’s disastrous and places a lot of emphasis of achievement scores of amorphous, one-time testing rather than student growth throughout the entire year.

It’s part of the “proficiency versus growth” debate that really came to the forefront during the Betsy DeVos confirmation hearings when she could not delineate between whether test scores are used to measure student “achievement” or student “growth.”

Consider this:

Picture5

Interestingly enough, in the school year 2019-2020, the school performance grade scale will shift from a fifteen-point scale to a ten-point scale. Do you know what that means?

IT WILL BE HARDER FOR PUBLIC SCHOOLS TO QUALIFY AS PASSING. IN FACT, SCHOOLS COULD HAVE A HIGHER PERCENTAGE OF STUDENT GROWTH AND STILL GET A LOWER SCHOOL PERFORMANCE GRADE! AND THE SCHOOL REPORT CARD SITE WILL HIGHLIGHT THAT!

There will be more failing schools. This comes from a legislative body that endorsed the state board last school year to institute a ten-point scale for all high school grading systems to help ensure higher graduation rates, but now shrinks scales for those schools’ performance grades.

This comes from the same legislative body that literally is propping up the very state superintendent who is championing this very site.

Guess what else is happening in 2019-2010? Voucher expansion! From the recent session that gave us our current budget:

SECTION 6.6.(b) G.S. 115C-562.8(b) reads as rewritten: “(b) The General Assembly finds that, due to the critical need in this State to provide opportunity for school choice for North Carolina students, it is imperative that the State provide an increase of funds of at least ten million dollars ($10,000,000) each fiscal year for 10 years to the Opportunity Scholarship Grant Fund Reserve. Therefore, there is appropriated from the General Fund to the Reserve the following amounts for each fiscal year to be used for the purposes set forth in this section: 


Fiscal Year Appropriation

2017-2018 $44,840,000
2018-2019 $54,840,000
2019-2020 $64,840,000
2020-2021 $74,840,000
2021-2022 $84,840,000
2022-2023 $94,840,000
2023-2024 $104,840,000
2024-2025 $114,840,000
2025-2026 $124,840,000
2026-2027 $134,840,000

Bottom line is that this site is helping to fuel the slanted and loaded argument that what this state needs more of is SCHOOL CHOICE! However, what is happening in this state is that “school choice” really is a euphemism for unregulated charter schools and vouchers – neither of which have produced results that show improvement for student achievement.

  1. The site is maintained by SAS.

Look at the web address – https://ncreportcards.ondemand.sas.com/src/. That “sas” represents SAS, the same SAS that controls EVAAS which measures schools by a secret algorithm. That “.com” means it’s maintained by a commercial entity. It gets paid taxpayer money.

Back to Johnson’s letter accompanying the new website:

“We launched the new website, a completely redesigned online resource that provides the transparency you need into the characteristics and performance of your school in an easy-to-use format, to better inform you. I encourage you to follow the link to a school’s individual website to find out more about the school’s full story.”

There’s a word there called “transparency.” EVAAS is the very epitome of not being transparent.

Actually, it is rather mindboggling to think that a measurement which comes from EVAAS is so shrouded in so much opaqueness. With the power to sway school report cards and school performance grades, it would make sense that there be so much transparency in how it calculates its data so that all parties involved would have the ability to act on whatever needs more attention.

And people are literally invited to take action on the data presented by the school report card website. In fact, SAS’s measurement slaps you in the face as soon as you choose a district or school.

Picture6

In fact, if one chooses to look at a district, then all schools are displayed according by color to whether they met growth and with a large letter grade. It’s like they are already being compared against each other when the very makeup of the schools and the obstacles each faces could differ a lot.

Think about what a school report card might not show.

  1. Does the school report card show how successful graduates are in post-secondary educational endeavors like Virginia which has dropped the performance grading system?
  2. Does the school report card consider the viewpoints of the parents whose students are being taught? school report card
  3. Does the school report card consider the viewpoints of the students and how they feel about the learning experience and their security in the school and the classroom?
  4. Does the school report card consider how many students are taking “rigorous” courses?
  5. Does the school report card consider the amount of community service done by students in the school?
  6. Does the school report card consider the strength of the drama department and the quality of the productions?
  7. Does the school report card consider what is seen in the yearbook?
  8. Does the school report card consider the strength of the student newspaper?
  9. Does the school report card consider the strength of the JROTC program?
  10. Does the school report card consider the number of viable clubs and organizations on campus?
  11. Does the school report card consider the amount of scholarship money won by graduating students?
  12. Does the school report card consider the number of student participating in sports?
  13. Does the school report card consider the number of foreign languages offered?
  14. Does the school report card consider the number of students in the Student Section at a game?
  15. Does the school report card consider the number of students who wear spirit wear?
  16. Does the school report card consider the number of students involved in choral and musical endeavors?
  17. Does the school report card consider the number of students who attend summer academic study opportunities?
  18. Does the school report card consider the quality of the artistic endeavors of students through visual and performance arts programs?
  19. Does the school report card consider the strength of programs that hope to help marginalized students?
  20. Does the school report card consider the transient rate of the student body?
  21. Does the school report card consider the poverty levels of the surrounding area that the school services?
  22. Does the school report card consider the number of students who hold jobs?
  23. Does the school report card consider the effect of natural disasters such as hurricanes?
  24. Does the school report card consider the funding levels of the programs?
  25. Does the school report card consider the number of students on 504 plans or IEP’s?
  26. Does the school report card consider the rations of nurses and counselors to students?
  27. Does the school report card consider the class sizes?

Yes, this new interface for the school report cards of NC’s public schools looks modern and it does show data in a more eye-friendly manner, but what it really displays is how unwilling this current crop of policy makers are in confronting what really affects our schools, especially poverty.

It also is proof that Mark Johnson is more interested in the appearance of doing well.

And appearances are deceiving.

 

North Carolina’s Continued Passive Aggressive War on Public Education

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

TimMooreNC

He starts,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Rep. Moore,

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

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

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

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

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

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

ncga

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

  1. Concerning “Better Budgets,” you remarked,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Survey Monkeys and Publicly Funded Private School Basketball Teams – Mark Johnson’s Search for Wasteful Spending

Today a report from WRAL highlighted Mark Johnson’s declaration that he had found wasteful spending within the Department of Public Instruction.

In “NC superintendent slams ‘disturbing’ spending at state education agency,” Kelly Hinchcliffe begins,

State Superintendent Mark Johnson listened last week as State Board of Education members bemoaned the millions of dollars in recent budget cuts to the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. The cuts have harmed staff and students, one board member explained, and he urged Johnson to join them in reaching out to state lawmakers to say “enough is enough.”

But Johnson declined. Instead, he said in his 11 months as superintendent he has found excessive spending at the state education agency and said he hopes an upcoming $1 million audit he has commissioned will root out any other potential waste at the agency” (https://www.wral.com/nc-superintendent-slams-disturbing-spending-at-state-education-agency/17089497/?version=amp).

Johnson has been asked by the State Board of Education to address the budget cuts to DPI before, particular Greg Alcorn, who asked in October’s meeting for Johnson to address the “elephant in the room.”

That led to some rather pregnant pauses bookended with intentional silence.

This month’s meeting had yet another one of those “standoffs.”

“I brought up these cuts and said, ‘Is there anything we can do to avoid this?’ And this education leader said if the state board and the state superintendent came together to the General Assembly and said, ‘Enough is enough. We can’t serve our students and absorb another cut,’ that would have great weight in the General Assembly,” Davis said. “So I would suggest we take this education leader up on his advice.”

“I would love to talk to that education leader as well,” Johnson responded. “There are many, many different education leaders in the General Assembly that have vastly different opinions. I know that because I’ve been working very closely with all of them. And so, yes, that is a conversation we can have. I’d like to talk to who you talked to.”

Davis tried again.

“Sure. I think this particular advice was keen on that we are together in that request, that we are unified in advocating for the department, that the department can’t absorb any more cuts. It’s important for us to publicly say that,” Davis said.

“I look forward to discussing that with the education leader you discussed it with,” Johnson responded.

“So are we in agreement on avoiding future cuts?” Davis asked.

The superintendent stared straight ahead, not acknowledging Davis’ question, as others in the room laughed nervously at the awkward silence.

Awkward silence.

Johnson did come into the meeting with an example of “wasteful spending” in the form of a few thousand in Survey Monkey plans. That is all good and well, but for a superintendent who is choosing to use surveys as a means of “communicating” with teachers it would help to clarify how those surveys are to be delivered.

In a September 21, 2017 email to all teachers, Mark Johnson’s office sent out its initial survey for teachers in the state.

surveymonkey

It is administered through Survey Monkey. Irony noted.

When pressed for more items of wasteful spending Johnson’s office provided the following (per Hinchcliffe’s report):

  • Extensive conference-related costs, such as:
  • Paying excess rates for conference speakers
  • Large sums for meals and room rentals
  • $25,000 to sponsor World View Symposium held by UNC
  • $2,500 to sponsor one episode of a single-market television program.
  • Overhead charges paid to hire personnel through intergovernmental contracts rather than directly hiring personnel, which would cost DPI less.
  • Reversion of over $15 million in Excellent Public Schools Act funds that could have been used to support early childhood literacy.

And while that might sound good and well, there have been some glaringly wasteful uses of taxpayer money that Johnson has spearheaded that maybe he should also consider in this recent financial purge.

One is this item to finance legal bills for Johnson as he is being sued by his own state board for a power grab.

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One is the money given to him to hire people when there already existed more knowledgeable education professionals who already fulfilled those roles.

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And finally, there is the very wasteful spending in the financing of private school basketball teams with public money. Read this gem of a piece of investigative journalism by Lindsay Wagner at the Public School Forum of North Carolina called “Out of Bounds: Embezzlement and Basketball at North Carolina’s Biggest Voucher School” (https://www.ncforum.org/out-of-bounds-embezzlement-and-basketball-at-north-carolinas-biggest-voucher-school/).

Wagner highlights the story of Trinity Christian in Fayetteville who is the top recipient of voucher money in the state but has had a shady past in financial records. In fact,

“Trinity Christian isn’t the only high profile private school basketball program to receive public dollars by way of the state’s school voucher program.

In the Fayetteville Observer story about the rise of Fayetteville’s private school basketball powerhouses, four of the five private schools mentioned have received significant amounts of public funds through vouchers since the program’s inception in 2014.

Fayetteville Christian School follows Trinity Christian with the second highest total public dollars received—$1.15 million over the past three and a half years.

Altogether, the four Fayetteville private schools that house elite basketball programs—Trinity Christian, Freedom Christian, Fayetteville Christian and Northwood Temple—have taken in nearly $4 million in school vouchers since 2014.

As the state’s school voucher program continues to expand rapidly—it is slated to grow from an initial $10 million annual appropriation to $145 million annually by 2026, spending roughly $1 billion in taxpayer dollars over ten years—it is notable that five out of the top ten private school voucher recipients are big players in statewide private school basketball programs.”

What would Johnson say to this? Probably not much because it goes against his narrative.

Besides he is about to hire an associate state superintendent focused on early childhood.

On top of the 23-persson staff already in place in the Office of Early Learning.

Not wasteful at all.

Again, Why We Need Educational Journalists – What is Happening in Florida

orlando

When North Carolina adopted its current school performance grade policy, it was not original. It was taken from Florida where Jeb Bush enacted it as governor.

Apparently, NC has also adopted a proclivity for the use of vouchers and couple that with our state’s deliberate lack of oversight and regulation, we may have another similarity with Florida.

Do not let it be lost on us that journalism may be one of the very things that saves us from our lawmakers, especially the ones who are pouring almost a billion tax payer dollars into the Opportunity Grants over the next decade.

What the Orlando Sentinel did in this series of reports as the product of investigative reporting should be read by all public school advocates.

Simply put, it is spectacular reporting.

http://www.orlandosentinel.com/features/education/os-florida-school-voucher-investigation-1018-htmlstory.html

 

Don’t Mistake My “Exaggeration” For Your Active Ignorance – A Somewhat Rational Response to the John Locke Foundation

Reading educational perspectives from John Hood and the John Locke Foundation is like opening a letter with a nice stamp, a handwritten address, and some hearts drawn on the outside.

Yet, once you open it up, what falls out is nothing but glitter. No letter. Nothing really of substance. Just a mess on the floor that requires cleaning.

But I know that I will still open any letters from John Hood and the John Locke Foundation because as a public school activist, those letters will inevitably revalidate that I am on the right side of the school choice argument.

Hood’s latest missive on school choice appears in EdNC.org’s Perspective section. It is entitled “Exaggeration won’t stop school choice” (https://www.ednc.org/2017/07/31/exaggeration-wont-stop-school-choice/).

Its tone is condescending and entitled. Its substance is watery. And its covert claim of taking the moral “high road” in the debate over school choice in NC smells of garbage juice. Consider the final line of his op-ed.

“Let’s calm down and discuss this rationally.”

For a man who fronts organizations founded and led by Art Pope, the idea of having a rational conversation on public issues in this arena is like walking into a dialogue with someone who will only allow you one word for every sentence he says and who will not allow you to present evidence because it may actually refute any nebulous claims he makes.

But he will smile and shake your hand as if you are on the same side.

John Locke as a philosopher embraced empiricism, practicality, and strong observation. And while Mr. Hood loves using the word “empiricism” and “empirical” to define his “proof” he offers in this instance another lofty, general, glittering, and amorphous claim that what North Carolina has done to reform public education is strongly beneficial.

And it is beneficial – for those who are seeking to make a profit like Art Pope.

But Mr. Hood did offer to discuss this rationally, so here are some claims that he makes and that I will “rationally” refute.

  1. During the 2016-17 academic year, nearly one out of five North Carolina children were educated in settings other than district-run public schools. In Wake County and some other urban areas, the percentage was even higher.

He is right on both counts. Also, it needs to be noted that over one out of five North Carolina children live in poverty. And while Wake County has a higher percentage of students in non-public school settings, it might be worth noting that the budget shortfall for funding the public schools in Wake County is one of the more well-known shortfalls in the state as far as supporting public schools. Just do a little research.

  1. To opponents of parental choice in education, the trend signifies an elaborate plot to destroy public schools by denigrating their accomplishments and funding their competition. To other North Carolinians, the rising share of children attending charter, private, or home schools simply reflects the fact that more opportunities are available, more families are exploring them, and the state’s education sector is becoming more diverse, innovative, and parent-friendly.

Actually, a “rational” person could look at what has happened in the past five years in NC and see that there really is a dismantling of public education. Look at the money that is being used to fund charters, vouchers, and other “reforms” that have no “empirical evidence” showing that they are successful.

Just take a look at this : https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2016/05/18/the-assault-on-public-education-in-north-carolina-just-keeps-on-coming/. That’s an elaborate plot.

Of course other North Carolinians might see “school choice” as a road to more opportunities but is it really offering a more “diverse, innovative, and parent-friendly” experience?

Not really.

Today the News & Observer had an editorial entitled “The hidden cost of vouchers” (http://amp.newsobserver.com/opinion/editorials/article165488352.html). All North Carolinians should read this.

It states,

When they passed the ill-conceived program to hand taxpayers’ money to lower-income people to pay for private schools for their children, Republican lawmakers didn’t bother to point out the fine print – that the $4,200 maximum might not cover expenses such as food and transportation. And it also doesn’t cover the full tuition of private schools, many of which are church-affiliated…

There’s a cynical side to this entire program as well. Yes, the $4,200 can cover a lot of expense at small church schools, for example, but wealthy Republicans aren’t going to see any of the Opportunity Scholarship recipients in the state’s most exclusive private schools, the ones that cater to wealthy families. Tuition in those schools is often $20,000 and above.

Parents with kids in public schools where arts and physical education programs are threatened, where the best teachers are leaving the profession to earn a better living, might point directly to Republicans in the General Assembly as the culprits. This voucher program was little more than a slap at public schools, which Republicans have targeted since taking control of the General Assembly in 2011. It is a bad idea that is getting worse, and getting more expensive, and the only positive in it is in the eye of the beholder – private school enrollment has gone up since the program started.

Would Mr. Hood like to rationally refute this?

The op-ed in the N&O also references an NC State study led by Anna Egalite which offers some rather “empirical” data that seems to take Mr. Hood’s claims and send them back for reconsideration (https://news.ncsu.edu/2017/07/nc-state-research-explores-how-private-schools-families-make-voucher-decisions/). It too is worth the read.

Kris Nordstrom, education finance and policy consultant for the N.C. Justice Center’s Education and Law Project, is also quoted in the N&O op-ed. I am willing to bet my salary as it would have been if the General Assembly had not messed with the schedule I saw when I came into the profession that Nordstrom is much more educated in current public education issues than Mr. Hood and could offer more “rational” perspectives on the issue of school choice – calmly or otherwise.

  1. I’m in the latter camp, obviously. I’ve advocated school choice programs for three decades. My parents, former public-school educators, were supporters of the idea throughout their careers and influenced me greatly on the subject. If you disagree, I probably won’t be able to convince you in a single column about the merits of charter school expansion or opportunity scholarships. But I will offer this observation: exaggerating the case against school choice isn’t doing you or the public any favors.

No, Mr. Hood will not convince me. But if he thinks that what is being offered by myself or other public school advocates is exaggeration, then I would claim that Mr. Hood is compressing and ignoring the truth because he never refutes the evidence offered by public school advocates. In fact, he never offers any proof that vouchers and charters are showing evidence of high student achievement here in North Carolina.

Mr. Hood says that he has “good reasons, both theoretical and empirical” for his claims. What are they? Where is the data from North Carolina? The only time I have heard a “pro-school choice” official mentioning even talking about empirical evidence as far as North Carolina’s reforms are concerned actually helping low-income students.

Lindsay Wagner’s latest piece for the AJ Fletcher Foundation entitled “Are publicly-funded private school vouchers helping low-income kids? We don’t know” raises a rather glaring inconsistency when it comes to whether vouchers are really helping low-income students.

The leader of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina, Darrell Allison, said recently that school vouchers aren’t likely to hurt children from low-income households who use them. But he couldn’t say definitively that the voucher program actually helps these children, either.

Why? Because despite the fact that North Carolina spends millions of taxpayers’ dollars each year on vouchers, we have no meaningful data that can tell us if this is an effective way to help poor students who deserve a high quality education (http://ajf.org/publicly-funded-private-school-vouchers-helping-low-income-kids-dont-know/).

Doesn’t sound like empirical data to me. Sounds like avoiding the actual debate. I would also like to see Mr. Hood explain his point of view in reference to the NAACP’s recent call for a charter school moratorium.

Hood1

Or, what is found in this report: https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/federal-study-of-dc-voucher-program-finds-negative-impact-on-student-achievement/2017/04/27/e545ef28-2536-11e7-bb9d-8cd6118e1409_story.html?utm_term=.e45590a4a1db.

It states:

“Students in the nation’s only federally funded school voucher initiative performed worse on standardized tests within a year after entering D.C. private schools than peers who did not participate, according to a new federal analysis that comes as President Trump is seeking to pour billions of dollars into expanding the private school scholarships nationwide.

The study, released Thursday by the Education Department’s research division, follows several other recent studies of state-funded vouchers in Louisiana, Indiana and Ohio that suggested negative effects on student achievement. Critics are seizing on this data as they try to counter Trump’s push to direct public dollars to private schools.”

Or even this report from the NY Times: “Dismal Voucher Results Surprise Researchers as DeVos Era Begins” (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/23/upshot/dismal-results-from-vouchers-surprise-researchers-as-devos-era-begins.html).

  1. Elementary and secondary education is becoming more like the rest of the education sector, and more like a health care sector that features lots of taxpayer funding but a diverse array of public, private, and nonprofit hospitals and other providers.

Actually, Mr. Hood is right in this respect when he compares public education to health care. Just look at the refusal to extend Medicaid for the very families who would qualify for vouchers and you see how the refusal to fully fund public schools only makes matters unhealthier.

  1. There is an impressive body of empirical evidence suggesting that as district-run public schools face more competition, their students tend to experience gains in test scores and attainment as school leaders rise to the challenge.

There’s that word again – “empirical.” Funny how public education works really well when it is collaborative rather than competitive, but it is worth mentioning that in a state that routinely has principal pay ranked around 50th in the nation, actually keeping school leaders is an obstacle created by the very people who brought us reform.

  1. And because the state’s choice programs are targeted at disabled and lower-income kids, the enrollment changes wouldn’t represent some kind of neo-segregationist conspiracy.

Apparently, Mr. Hood didn’t read this:

Hood2

He could just confer with Lt. Dan Forrest on its contents.

Or maybe he hasn’t fully digested this (which was sent to me, but I cannot verify its source, so if you find it, please let me know):

Hood3

The last statement before he offers the “Let’s calm down and discuss this rationally” conclusion, Mr. Hood says, “Competition improves performance.”

When the North Carolina General Assembly stops gerrymandering districts and enabling policies that seem to be ruled unconstitutional like Voter ID laws then the playing field might be leveled somewhat.

Then Mr. Hood might see how the performance of his op-ed and its baseless claims really offer no competition to the truth.