There Are No “Silver Bullets” or “Magic Pills” in Changing Schools – It’s About School Culture

There are no “silver bullets” or “magic pills” when it comes to changing a school.

There is no one thing that can be done, no standard blueprint, no Harry Potter spell that can be executed that will make a struggling school turn its fortune around overnight.

Rather, transforming schools is a process – one that has to have the investment of all people involved: administrators, teachers, and students.

That process is rooted in school culture.

Culture – noun  cul·ture  \ ˈkəl-chər \ :t he set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization (merriam-webster.com)

That definition suggests multiple variables: “attitudes,” “values,” “goals,” and “practices.” They are “shared,” clearly outlined, nurtured, practiced, modeled, and embraced.

culture

Most schools have one principal and perhaps multiple assistant principals who can set a tone and attitude for the school. But the most effective school administrators are the ones who do not see teachers as an extension of authority or executors of mandates. The most effective school administrators view teachers as the very foundation of what makes a positive school culture.

Those same effective school administrators look to remove obstacles for teachers so that they can do what they do best: teach and help students.

In today’s data-driven world and over-reliance on bottom lines, it is easy to judge schools by a series of standardized, yet nebulous measurements such as ACT scores, EOCT proficiency rates, or even EVAAS projections. To say that those measures do not have any merit is not the point. They do, but to a smaller degree than other variables, ones fostered by school culture.

Positive school culture celebrates the process, not just a score on a test. It focuses on the actions taken to improve all measurable and immeasurable outcomes. It sees the student as a person, an individual, not as a test-taker. It values the roles of the teachers and honors the relationships that each teacher makes with the students. It includes student and parent involvement, the student section, the quality of the yearbook, the number of kids in extracurricluars, and the willingness of a community to support them.

Look at the number of teachers who come early and stay late, who attend events in the school that are not academic. Look at the students who come for tutoring and ask for help because they feel free to advocate for themselves.

Listen to the announcements and see what is celebrated. Look who wears apparel that reflects school spirit.

Look at teacher-turnover rates, student dropout rates, and workplace condition surveys.

When the only valued measure of a school becomes data points whose formulas are never fully revealed, then what happens is that blind faith in algorithms and conversions is greater than the trust in the human capital that is the life force of the school.

Find a principal who can fully explain the algorithms used by SAS to come up with EVAAS predictors. Find a county administrator or a state officer who can.

Find the ACT report that breaks down every strand and standard for each missed question and totally reveals how each student did on each question so complete that it can be used to help remediate.

Find a state or local benchmark test whose answers can be validated by any administrator or teacher having to use it.

Yet in many of those cases, those standardized ways of measuring students have become so much more the focus of many schools and administrators which in turn forces schools to look only at bottom lines and manufactured outcomes. That approach easily dismisses the human element.

Students are human.

Teachers are human.

Administrators are human.

And school culture is driven by students and teachers and nurtured by administrators. It is not measured by numbers, but by atmosphere, attitude, and shared visions. That takes time, effort, communication, and trust. It is something that starts from the inside and grows outward, not the other way round.

There is no “silver bullet” to make that happen.

There is no “magic pill” to swallow.

For schools to have a positive school culture there must be a strong faith in a process that creates a better outcome the more it is practiced. The more input that comes from those invested in the process, the more investment overall.

And when those who are in a school that wants to improve help to create an organic, dynamic culture that celebrates the student/teacher relationship and understands that all positive outcomes cannot be really quantified, then something that is actually magical does appear: a great school.

Besides, we do not need any more bullets in schools. We really do not.

The Silence of the NC State Superintendent on Public Schools And a Fear of Tough Questions

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I don’t get to choose my students. Whoever walks into my classroom and is on the roll I receive from the school system will get the best instruction that I can offer.

And in those classes, I do not write a script. Students are always allowed to ask questions, especially tough ones. If I know answers, then good. If I can lead them to answers, then great. If I do not know the answer, then I tell them and we search for answers together.

The tougher the question, the better. It means higher order thinking is going on. It also makes me as a teacher keep striving to learn and be more prepared. It makes me accountable and “accountable” is a word that some in Raleigh use in talking about others rather than reflecting on themselves.

In fact, I should never shy away from an inquisitive student. Nor should any public official shy away from an opportunity to offer answers, clarification, and/or insight from anyone who is affected by his/her actions or lack of actions.

When State Superintendent Mark Johnson first took office over a year ago, he embarked on what he termed as a “listening tour” as he vowed to listen directly from teachers, parents, community leaders, and other stake holders in North Carolina.

But has Mark Johnson done any speaking about what he has heard? Has he come back to teachers, parents, community leaders, and other stake holders in North Carolina and shared those observations in an open forum where he could be asked pointed and direct questions?

He certainly had a chance this week.

Today, it was learned that Johnson declined an offer by Capital Tonight to debate NCAE President Mark Jewell on educator pay. Johnson turned down a chance to talk with an important public school advocate and offer explanation on his nebulous views on education.

He was not going to have any part of that. Maybe it was because of a scheduling conflict, but he could have offered an alternate date.

I believe it’s because it is a debate. He could not script all of his words and he would be forced to answer tough questions.

In the times that I have been able to glean any information from Mark Johnson about his stance on the many issues we public educators are facing now, it is from a prepared text carefully placed in chosen media.

And there has been nothing from Johnson about the class size mandate, the principal pay plan, or reductions in funding.

Interviews have been given to specific outlets. Video addresses are sent out after careful production. Op-eds are placed throughout the state without a chance for people to actively rebut. And when challenged in meetings like the state board meetings this past year, he remains vague or silent.

For a man who spends a lot of time talking about his teaching experience, Johnson should remember that teachers answer tough questions from really smart students about intricate subjects on a daily basis. Even the teachers who make 35K a year.

But the elected state superintendent who makes over 120K a year will not come on television and actively debate an educator concerning his own words about teacher pay.

Maybe it is a good thing he is not in the classroom any longer. There may be too many hard questions to answer.

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Every Principal in NC Has The Right to Speak Out Against This New Principal Pay Plan – It’s “Political Crap”

“Legislation is not an exact science. We do things that we think will help solve an issue.”

– Craig Horn in EdNC.org on Sept. 21, 2017.

Rep. Craig Horn’s quote was in response to what he called “overblown fears” concerning the new principal pay plan newly implemented this school year (https://www.ednc.org/2017/09/21/principal-pay-situation/).

However, considering what this current slew of lawmakers, including Horn, has done to “reform” public education here in North Carolina, it is rather ironic that he says that educators should not have “fears.” Anyone who has been an advocate for public schools in North Carolina knows full well that this state has every reason to fear what is brewing in Raleigh concerning educational reforms.

Horn mentions that legislation is not an exact science, but it is odd that he refers to it as a science because if it is then we have some lousy “scientists” in Raleigh. Consider the need for scientists to thoroughly investigate all possible scenarios and constantly experiment before declaring something a “law.” Consider that scientists usually have their work peer-reviewed before publishing.

But that would go against the special sessions of Horn’s constituents and their use of secret midnight meetings. Furthermore, if Horn is claiming to be practicing a science, then why not listen to actual scientists when it concerns matters like coal ash spills, GenX, and fracking?

The problem with Horn’s comments found in response to criticism of the principal pay plan is that those comments are simply weak and do not even pass the basic tenants of the scientific process. In fact, they are insulting to educators and those looking to see past the smoke and mirrors which have come to define the political process in Raleigh.

Horn continues (as Granados explains),

“Did we intend to get it done perfectly? Well, we would have liked to have, but we don’t kid ourselves,” Horn said. “Did we intend to screw somebody? No. Period.” 

Intentions can be debated all day, but actions speak truly. This principal pay plan simply does “screw” people, both literally and figuratively.

But for Horn to say that “screwing” somebody with this principal pay plan was not intentional? The “we” he refers to must mean the GOP establishment in power on West Jones Street. And frankly, those people do not have a good track record with having good actions backing up their intentions.

Maybe the representative should explain how HB2 did not intentionally target transgender citizens of North Carolina. Maybe he should explain how the unconstitutional Voter ID law did not intentionally target lower-income minorities. Maybe Horn should explain how the racially-gerrymandered redistricting plan that his own party enacted was not intentionally constructed to screw people over.

To continue with Horn’s scientifically unsound comments:

Horn also expresses frustration with some of the critics who he said have unfairly used the hold harmless provision to demonize Republicans. He said their fears are theoretical. 

“That may happen. This may happen. The Earth may explode. To use that as a bludgeon is patently ridiculous,” he said. “It’s fear mongering and political crap at its worst.” 

It’s funny that someone like Horn talk about frustration. Ask any veteran public school teacher or administrator about how Raleigh has totally changed the landscape of public education in North Carolina morphing it from a once nation-leading progressive system to a playground for privatizing, then you will hear some scientifically supported frustration.

The irony is not lost on Horn’s use of the word “theoretical” since he and his cronies will pass a hint of a baseless hypothesis into law within the matter of a day – like HB2. Or HB14. Or SB4. Without any experimenting! Yet, the people who actually are practicing the scientific method and have advanced degrees and conducting research are telling us that we are doing everything in our power to make the Earth explode. People in Houston, Puerto Rico, and Mexico have sure seen things explode.

Horn would call that last statement “fear mongering” and “political crap,” but what he is actually selling is “crap mongering” because of “political fear.” Why? Because the principal pay plan is so shallow and thin that it shows the lack of “scientific process” used by lawmakers to pass it. And people immediately recognize it.

If one looks at the actual steps of the scientific process as taught in our high schools based on the curriculum that the state prescribes, then one can see the steps real scientists use to explore. The steps listed below actually come from DPI’s K-12 Standards page for science (http://www.ncpublicschools.org/curriculum/science/).

  1. Asking questions and defining problems
  2. Developing and using models
  3. Planning and carrying out investigations
  4. Analyzing and interpreting data
  5. Using mathematics and computational thinking
  6. Constructing explanations and designing solutions
  7. Engaging in argument from evidence
  8. Obtaining, evaluating and communicating information

Except in this instance the problem defined was how to make principals and schools do more with less. The model came from some political playbook used by ALEC-leaning bodies. The planning occurred behind doors without actual educators. The data that was analyzed involved monetary bottom lines. The math and the computational thinking come from entities that benefit from this pay plan like SAS. Given explanations have been broad and nebulous. There is no evidence. And lastly, a body of lawmakers that uses special sessions and secret meetings which shut out other points of view does not practice communication well.

Horn’s comments still do not explain why the principal pay plan simply assumes that principals were not already focused on helping students achieve. He never explains why their getting advanced degrees to become more qualified to handle tasks and duties of an educational leader who has to navigate the terrain of today’s educational reality is not important. And he sure as hell does not explain how the same lawmakers who champion this plan resolve to help alleviate poverty’s effects on student performance.

Until he does that, then all he is giving us is a lesson in political scatology.

Open Letter to BEST NC About Their Principal Pay Plan (and Their Shallow Response to the Push-back).

Dear. Mrs. Berg and BESTNC,

Today I read your reactionary response on EdNC.org concerning BESTNC’s explanation of the new principal pay plan that has received some much well-deserved criticism. It was nice to finally see BEST NC take responsibility for this absolutely detrimental policy.

Without taking the time to mince words, I want to thank you for further proving what many of us public school advocates have known for a while concerning BESTNC and its principal members – that you and BESTNC are a special interest group who claim to represent a non-partisan, non-profit coalition that actually is helping usher in an agenda here in North Carolina which benefits those who wish to profit from the privatization of public schools.

One only has to read your latest attempt at amelioration entitled “North Carolina’s new principal pay schedule, explained by BEST NC” to understand that it is nothing more than damage control for an ill-conceived yet purposeful plan (https://www.ednc.org/2017/09/21/north-carolinas-new-principal-pay-schedule-explained-best-nc/).

You start it by stating,

“This year, North Carolina made the largest investment in state history in principal salaries through an updated salary schedule and bonus opportunities.”

That sounds great, but when you say the word “bonus,” you already have aroused suspicion. The words “bonus” and “public education” have never really collided successfully in North Carolina. Remember the ABC’s? or the 25% of top teachers get a raise concept? Probably not, because you are not an educator or administrator. Rather, you are a mouthpiece for a special-interest group without an authentic understanding of public education but a clear understanding of profit.

When many principals have spoken out against this plan and have specifically stated that they under this initiative would actually see a decrease in salary, you come back with the horribly safe “average bear” concept.

“The new principal salary schedule provides the average North Carolina principal a 10 percent raise, built on a student-focused, nation-leading foundation.”

There is a seismic difference between “average” and “actual.” Just ask a veteran teacher to explain “average” teacher salary raises in the last five years. And that “built on a student focused, nation-leading foundation” comment? What “nation-leading” foundation are you referring to? I have a hunch.

Your VP at BESTNC is the former executive director for Carolina CAN, the state affiliate for 50CAN which is partnered with an outfit named Students First.

Students First was founded and is run by Michelle Rhee who I have stated in the past in a letter to you as someone who is “the antithesis of how to approach helping public schools. In every endeavor she has undertaken in ‘improving’ educational outcomes, she has left disunity, damage, and a large void in her wake” (https://caffeinatedrage.com/2017/01/29/an-open-letter-to-best-nc-concerning-meeting-with-michelle-rhee-every-public-school-teacher-needs-to-be-aware-of-this/).

You invited her to speak at BESTNC’s Legislative Gathering for 2017 in which no teachers, education advocacy groups, or even press were allowed to attend. There was only a press-conference in which you offered “soft” questions in hopes that it would ameliorate the concerns people had with Rhee’s coming to talk to the very legislators who passed the principal pay plan you praise.

Michelle Rhee had once instituted a plan for bonus pay with performance “carrot-sticks” called Project IMPACT in Washington D.C. that has been widely scrutinized. This new principal pay plan that you are having to defend in this op-ed makes that Rhee visit come into a lot more focus. That is unless you are willing to share the nature of Rhee’s visit with the legislators that evening and prove the opposite.

But back to your recent missive:

“BEST NC is committed to working with state leaders to build on the state’s new plan and correct unintended consequences.”

Do those state leaders include actual teachers and teacher advocacy groups? If they do, please identify and explain how that was part of the collaboration to come up with this proposal for a principal pay plan in the first place.

“Since this summer, we have worked in consultation with state associations and educator groups on technical corrections to ensure that no principal sees a loss in pay this year, and to create greater stability for all principals by extending the provision into future years.”

What state associations and educator groups are you referring to? And I am not asking as a way of pressing the issue as much as I am genuinely asking whom you are collaborating with who fits those descriptions because I have not heard a word from other groups praising this plan.

I am also referring to your own words when it comes to having discourse with all parties involved. You even explained the need for “open discourse” in another EdNC.org op-ed called “(Not) Taking Sides: Civil Discourse with Michelle Rhee and George Parker” (https://www.ednc.org/2017/02/17/not-taking-sides-civil-discourse-michelle-rhee-george-parker/).

You said,

“Choosing to listen to other perspectives; especially ideas that may challenge our own beliefs – requires us to recognize that no one is perfect or has a monopoly on the best ideas – and this is hard. But when it comes to our students, it’s the right thing to do.”

So, when you help to craft this pay plan and push it through legislation, did you have those conversations with actual principals, public school administrators, and superintendents who have to hire principals to help lead schools, especially the hard-to-staff ones? And if you did, were they enthusiastic about the plan that was released this fall because BESTNC sure was.

On July 17th the same VP for BESTNC, Julie Kowal, who once was with Carolina Can penned an opinion piece that praised the very plan that you seem to be gingerly defending now. She even said,

“Not only is principal pay too low, but for years North Carolina – like other states – has paid school leaders based on school size, along with their level of education and years of experience, with no accounting for the difficulty of the job or the principals’ effectiveness in their role. This structure and level of principals’ compensation have made recruitment and retention increasingly difficult, particularly in high-needs and smaller schools.

That is why BEST NC’s top legislative goal for this year was to build on the 2016 recommendation by the Legislative Study Committee on School-Based Administrator’s Pay “to make meaningful, sustained and strategic investments in school leader compensation.”

The legislature followed through. This year’s budget completely restructures the salary schedule for principals in what may be the most innovative and student-focused pay structure in the country. The 2017-18 budget also invests more than $40 million in principal pay raises over the next two years” (http://best-nc.org/raising-and-transforming-principal-pay-north-carolina-leading-the-nation/).

That letter seems to be a rousing approval of a plan that has in a short time done more to disturb high school principals than empower them. Reports given on the pay plan by educational groups have said that this plan will actually hurt “recruitment and retention… in high needs and smaller schools.”

And that removal for advanced-degree pay bumps is rather ironic when looking at the profiles of the staff of BESTNC on their website as they list all of the graduate degrees they have obtained to help validate their position.

And when you talked about helping “struggling schools” did you or BESTNC ever lobby for programs and initiatives to combat the very poverty that seems to go hand-in-hand with schools who receive chronically low school performance grades. You can easily see that correlation if you explore EdNC’s Data Dashboard.

But it is the last paragraph that shows your and BESTNC’s total disconnect with public education. You say,

“These corrections and improvements are critical. It is unfortunate, though, that they overshadow such a significant investment and important step forward to pay North Carolina’s principals as the executives they are.”

Of course they overshadow what you think is a great plan because you have not really improved the situation. You have rammed a business model down the throats of something that cannot be run like a business.

Furthermore, PRINCIPALS ARE NOT EXECUTIVES! THEY ARE EDCUCATIONAL LEADERS!

There is a massive difference. And to think that principals are executives only further proves your disconnect. If you really wanted principals to be executives, then let them operate without the need for complete transparency, or having to publicize salaries, or run on protocols established by outside entities, or even having a limit on what they can spend on the resources they think they need.

Oh, and let them choose their customers and set a price point.

But that will never happen because public schools are a public good, not a private business. And principals are educators by trade, not business executives.

If there is one thing that BESTNC’s involvement in the new principal pay plan has shed light upon, it is that being fully financed does allow for groups to take action and have influence, especially behind closed doors in Raleigh.

Now, just imagine if public schools were fully funded and fully staffed.

Fight for that.

Why BEST NC is Not “Best” for NC

A recent WRAL / Capitol Broadcasting Company opinion piece that appeared on Sept. 19th on WRAL.com attested that the inflated rhetoric surrounding the North Carolina General Assembly’s so-called support of public education was nothing more than partisan hot air.

“Editorial: N.C. school budget’s defects emerge as students settle in” highlights two specifically glaring shortcomings to come out of the legislative sessions of the past summer: class size restrictions which have been rather publicized of late and the new principal pay plan (http://www.wral.com/editorial-reality-of-n-c-school-budget-s-defects-emerge-as-students-settle-in/16957746/).

That new principal pay plan has just come into light and has received some rather harsh but deserved criticism. Why? Because it was poorly planned and seems to have been implemented behind closed doors without thorough vetting and an understanding of what works in schools.

On Sept. 8th, Lindsay Wagner reported on a State Board of Education meeting that discussed the initial feedback from principals about the new pay plan (https://www.ncforum.org/new-principal-pay-plan-could-result-in-steep-salary-reductions-for-veteran-principals/). In it she quoted one of the board members who seemed rather perplexed as to who designed the new plan.

Board member Tricia Willoughby repeatedly questioned who designed the principal pay plan.

“When I get the phone call from our local superintendent about this, or from some of my friends who are principals, I want to know specifically who designed this [principal pay plan] and who I can tell them to call,” said Willoughby. “I want to know who designed it, and we may not get that answer today, but I’d like an email in the next day or two [explaining] to whom I refer these questions.”

If the State Board doesn’t know who designed the pay plan, then one of two things has happened – either there has been an extreme case of amnesia or the plan was crafted behind closed doors on West Jones Street without the input of the State Board, DPI, or other educational leaders, especially those who talk closely local superintendents and principals.

It turns out that it was the latter with the help of a supposedly “non-profit,” “non-partisan” group called BESTNC.

BESTNC stands for Business for Educational Success and Transformation North Carolina. Their legal name is North Carolina Business Leaders for Education. They tout a very impressive list of business leaders among their ranks, but their name is in direct contradiction to what they have practiced in helping shape policy like the principal pay plan.

The WRAL op-ed actually calls them out on their role in the plan.

One of the top priorities of BEST NC, a coalition of business leaders focused on improving education, was bettering public school principal pay – which ranks among the lowest in the nation. Following the session, the group praised legislators for “what may be the most innovative and student-focused pay structure” in the nation.

However last week the state Board of Education was told that the new pay plan may end up discouraging good principals from working at the schools that need the most help and could force the most experienced principals to opt for retirement.

While building in pay incentives for increased performance of students, the pay structure eliminated the additional money principals received for advanced degrees and years of experience (longevity). In some scenarios, some experienced principals would see their pay drop $20,000.

That link in the story referencing the praise heaped upon legislators by BESTNC leads readers to July 17, 2017 op-ed by Julie Kowal (VP for BESTNC) on BESTNC’s website – http://best-nc.org/raising-and-transforming-principal-pay-north-carolina-leading-the-nation/. It is worth the read, but particularly enlightening is:

State investments in school leaders have been one of BEST NC’s top priorities since our founding. As business leaders, our members know the value of great leadership. We believe principals are the superheroes of our public schools. They are responsible for establishing and maintaining a positive school culture focused on student success; they lead teams averaging 50 adults – recruiting, developing and retaining outstanding teachers and staff; they manage an operating budget averaging $5M, and they serve as the glue between the school and its surrounding community…

That is why BEST NC’s top legislative goal for this year was to build on the 2016 recommendation by the Legislative Study Committee on School-Based Administrator’s Pay “to make meaningful, sustained and strategic investments in school leader compensation.”

The legislature followed through. This year’s budget completely restructures the salary schedule for principals in what may be the most innovative and student-focused pay structure in the country. The 2017-18 budget also invests more than $40 million in principal pay raises over the next two years.

BESTNC was founded in 2014. If principal pay has been a priority since its founding, then this principal pay plan has been in the works for years and the amount of publicity that the process has received has been rather miniscule.

That is purposeful. And it’s not what is “best” for NC’s schools.

For public school advocates, BESTNC is not unfamiliar. There was a rather interesting op-ed written by BESTNC President Brenda Berg in 2015 called “The real war on education in North Carolina,” a rebuttal to a piece written by a former teacher and public school advocate (https://www.ednc.org/2015/08/12/the-real-war-on-education-in-north-carolina/). What that article did not do well was realistically portray the state of education. Many of the statistics used were incorrect and the conclusions derived were easily debunked.

But what Berg’s article did do well in 2015 was to show that there was a “war” and how out of touch many in the reform movement are when examining the classroom. That deliberate disconnect is still evident with the principal pay plan of 2017.

While BESTNC seemed to praise its own good works at the annual America Succeeds EduVenture convention last week, it had to quickly defend itself for actions that no one really knew happened because instead of being that non-profit and non-partisan group they showed themselves to be a rather well-funded lobbying group – for businesses.

BestNCtweetBestNCtweet2

Again, it’s not what is “best” for NC’s schools.

And again, it is all deliberate.

Consider that most, if not all, of the “reforms” instituted within the last four years in NC have come from politicians and business leaders, it only makes sense that teachers and principals not only come to the defense of public education but loudly question the powers that be.

Yet, those same teachers and administrators are having to fulfill their teaching and leadership duties in schools that receive less resources and less support from a harshly partisan legislation that supports a puppet state superintendent, gerrymanders districts, discriminates against portions of the population (Voter ID and HB2), and works behind closed doors with lobbying groups like BESTNC to craft dangerous reforms.

It shows that what is really BEST in NC are the people working in public schools like teachers, students, volunteers, teacher assistants, students, and parents – not those who try and wear the mantle of “BEST”.

Maybe before BESTNC starts another initiative that seemingly is clothed with good intentions but in reality benefits a few, it should look closely at that business / education nonparallel.

Maybe BESTNC should consider running the businesses they represent under the same construct that schools are forced to work under by the same NCGA that BESTNC has surreptitiously worked with, but as a small warning, they should:

  • Be prepared to open up every book and have everything audited.
  • Be prepared to publicize all of the salaries of the people who work for you.
  • Be prepared to allow every stockholder to have equal power on how your run your business even if they own just one share.
  • Be prepared to abide by protocols and procedures established by people outside of the business.
  • Be prepared to not get to choose your raw materials.
  • Be prepared to have everything open to the press.
  • Be prepared to not get to advertise or market yourself.
  • Even though you are supposedly “fully” funded, be prepared to raise funds because you are not really fully funded.
  • Be prepared to have your work hours, schedule, and calendar dictated by those who do not even work for your business.
  • Be prepared to have to communicate with all of your clients’ parents and guardians.
  • And finally be prepared to not MAKE A MONETARY PROFIT. Why? Because you are not a business. You are a public service.

Until BESTNC realizes that running education like a business does not work, all of their initiatives will have the same effect as their principal pay plan.

That is why they are not “best” for NC.

About That New Horrible Principal Pay Plan? Ask BEST NC. They Seem to Love It.

This past February, Michelle Rhee came to North Carolina for a “closed-door” meeting (February 7th)) with lawmakers in a visit that did not sit well with public school advocates.

In fact, this meeting was brokered by an educational lobbying body of business leaders called BEST NC.

This meeting with Rhee 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 – educators.

And while the media did have a chance to meet and greet with Ms. Rhee and George Parker in a manicured and measured way, 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.

So much for transparency and including all stakeholders. 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 which are still being debated in courts months later after an entirely new school year has begun.

BEST NC also has had an initiative to reinvent how principals in North Carolina are compensated. Until now, we as a state rank 50th in principal pay. Of course that needs to change, but would it not make sense for principals and educators to have a say in that process?

This month, the state released its new principal pay plan and if anything, it was not well received.

From Lindsay Wagner’s piece for the Public School Forum on 9/7,

State Board of Education members expressed shock this week upon learning just how seriously the General Assembly’s newly enacted principal pay plan could hurt school leaders, particularly those who have devoted decades of service to the state’s public schools (https://www.ncforum.org/new-principal-pay-plan-could-result-in-steep-salary-reductions-for-veteran-principals/).

Keung Hui from Raleigh’s News & Observer reported on 9/15,

Supporters say the new plan provides a needed increase for underpaid principals while putting a focus on improving how students perform. But critics worry the change will discourage principals from working at struggling schools and lead to veteran principals retiring.

Lawmakers agreed to make sure that no principals saw pay cuts this school year. But that “hold harmless” budget provision expires at the end of June (http://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/education/article173533601.html).

The backlash from actual veteran principals concerning this new pay plan was swift and fierce. Diane Ravitch even included it on her widely read blog referencing Wagner’s report while adding,

The North Carolina legislature will go down in history as the most anti-education lawmakers in the history of the state. I would say the nation, but Wisconsin’s hostility to educators is tough to beat.

The legislature enacted a principal pay plan that cuts principal pay and drives out veteran principal. In North Carolina, this is called “reform” (https://dianeravitch.net/2017/09/15/north-carolina-new-principal-pay-plan-cuts-pay-drives-out-veteran-leaders/).

The traffic for this post quickly made it one of the more read that day and Ravitch’s blog gets a lot of readers. In fact, it just passed 31 million hits this past week.

But BESTNC seems to love the new plan. They even praised it behind closed doors half a country away.

Last week, America Succeeds (the parent of BESTNC) held its annual convention in Boise, ID. It’s called EdVenture. On opening night there is a session for affiliates only. But a tweet did make it out for advocates to see. BESTNC even retweeted it.

BestNCtweet

It says, “Brilliant policy by @BESTNC.org: pay principals by size + complexity of schools AND results w/kids.”

For an organization that seems to only meet with lawmakers about education rather than educators and explains their policies only to like-minded groups, it is hard to look at their description as a “non-partisan group” seriously.

So how does BESTNC respond to all of the backlash of this principal pay plan that this tweet seems to show them owning? Have they come out into the open and explained to principal groups why they seem to have the ability to transform policy while principals and other educators seem to have no say?

Despite what they claim, the intention of BEST NC 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, including BESTNC.

Look at the graphic below:

privatizers

That is a diagram of the relationships between entities that many public school advocates deem as detrimental to our public school system. The box at the bottom represents the state of North Carolina. All of the other listed players are national.

Consider the following groups:

  • 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
  • Civitas Institute
  • SAS Software
  • CarolinaCan
  • North Carolina General Assembly
  • BEST NC

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.

If you want a full explanation on how all of these entities are involved then please refer to my post last February – https://caffeinatedrage.com/2017/02/11/the-dramatis-personae-in-the-privatization-of-public-schools-in-north-carolina-or-who-is-trying-to-reform-education-through-deformation/. But for this post, I will stay with America Succeeds and its direct links.

BEST NC 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 Democrats For Educational Reform (DFER) to channel “dark” money to out of state entities that promote anti-union, pro-charter, voucher supporting measures.

Actually, Teach For America, StudentsFirst (Michelle Rhee’s outfit), DFER, and KIPP Charters 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.

In essence, this principal pay plan seems to have been in the works for a while by a whole consortium.

So, it needs to be asked again:

How does BESTNC respond to all of the backlash of this principal pay plan that this tweet seems to show them owning and have they come out into the open and explained to principal groups why they seem to have the ability to transform policy while principals and other educators seem to have no say?

I think I already know the answers, but to get a full explanation you need to be part of a private group that is molding public education.

BESTNC says on its website intro,

“BEST NC is a non-profit, non-partisan coalition of business leaders committed to improving North Carolina’s education system through policy and advocacy. We do this by convening a broad constituency; encouraging collaboration around a shared, bold vision for education; and advocating for policies, research, programs, and awareness that will significantly improve education in North Carolina.”

But that brings up many other questions and doubts? Like

  • Non-partisan? Really?
  • Advocacy for whom?
  • Broad constituency? Really?
  • Collaboration? With whom?

The actions don’t match the claims and the benefits don’t help schools as much as they help certain individuals.

So much for transparency and including all stakeholders.