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

Map It And It Becomes Very Apparent That Medicaid Expansion Refusal Affects Schools

On Sept. 5th, I constructed a post concerning the high correlation between poverty, school performance grades, and the gerrymandered districts within North Carolina.

Yesterday, NC Policy Watch referenced a study by the North Carolina Poverty Research Fund in Chapel Hill entitled  “Putting a Face on Medicaid Expansion in North Carolina.” You can reference it here:

http://www.law.unc.edu/documents/poverty/publications/medicaid_report_final.pdf

The title graphic literally explains it all.

medicaid

Now, I invite you to reread that post (in italics) and consider the new graphic shown above, “Percent without Health Insurance by County”, in relation to the original graphs.

Political leanings and lenses aside, sometimes data can create a picture so vivid that it is really hard to argue against the conclusions.
Last week, the state of North Carolina released its school performance grades for the 2015-2016 school year. With pretty much the same parameters kept in place, the results really did nothing but reconfirm that the majority of schools which receive low or failing grades are usually schools with high poverty rates in their respective student bodies.
But there’s another correlation in the data that needs to be made note of – how it aligns to the gerrymandered districts recently struck down by the court system.
If you have not visited EdNC.org, then take the time to do so. They have been kind to post some of my op-eds and they do try and show / represent all sides of the educational debate. And there are many viewpoints passionately defended.
They also have a feature that is invaluable. It’s 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/) .

map1

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

medicaid

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

map2

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

medicaid

Now look at a map that shows the percentage of African-American students in each county’s population. It is also from the EdNC.org dashboard.

map3

If I could superimpose all three maps then I could show readers how confident I am that the correlation between the population of African-Americans, poverty, and school performance grades is incredibly strong.

medicaid

And there is a reason that I have not included other minority groups. That’s because when the Voter ID law was recently repealed by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals and the subsequent appeal to that decision by the governor  was dismissed by the Supreme Court, the courts specifically pointed to the “surgical precision” that the law targeted African-Americans and poorer people.
And here is a map of our current congressional districts, two of which were considered to be “gerrymandered” districts by federal courts, specifically districts 1 and 12. Images come from The News & Observer report  from Feb 6, 2016 entitled “Federal court ruling corrects gerrymandered NC  districts”   (http://www.newsobserver.com/opinion/editorials/article58911173.html).

districtmap1

 

medicaid

congressmap01

See any correlation to the maps above with the data that appears in the maps concerning school performance grades, numbers of free and reduced eligible students, and percentages of African-American students? I do.
Wow! Do I ever.

See any more correlation?

Wow! Do I still ever!

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.

 

 

Map It And It Becomes Very Apparent That Poverty Affects Schools

Political leanings and lenses aside, sometimes data can create a picture so vivid that it is really hard to argue against the conclusions.

Last week, the state of North Carolina released its school performance grades for the 2015-2016 school year. With pretty much the same parameters kept in place, the results really did nothing but reconfirm that the majority of schools which receive low or failing grades are usually schools with high poverty rates in their respective student bodies.

But there’s another correlation in the data that needs to be made note of – how it aligns to the gerrymandered districts recently struck down by the court system.

If you have not visited EdNC.org, then take the time to do so. They have been kind to post some of my op-eds and they do try and show / represent all sides of the educational debate. And there are many viewpoints passionately defended.

They also have a feature that is invaluable. It’s 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/) .

map1

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.

map2

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

Now look at a map that shows the percentage of African-American students in each county’s population. It is also from the EdNC.org dashboard.

map3

If I could superimpose all three maps then I could show readers how confident I am that the correlation between the population of African-Americans, poverty, and school performance grades is incredibly strong.

And there is a reason that I have not included other minority groups. That’s because when the Voter ID law was recently repealed by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals and the subsequent appeal to that decision by the governor  was dismissed by the Supreme Court, the courts specifically pointed to the “surgical precision” that the law targeted African-Americans and poorer people.

And here is a map of our current congressional districts, two of which were considered to be “gerrymandered” districts by federal courts, specifically districts 1 and 12. Images come from The News & Observer report  from Feb 6, 2016 entitled “Federal court ruling corrects gerrymandered NC  districts”   (http://www.newsobserver.com/opinion/editorials/article58911173.html).

districtmap1

congressmap01

See any correlation to the maps above with the data that appears in the maps concerning school performance grades, numbers of free and reduced eligible students, and percentages of African-American students? I do.

Wow! Do I ever.