The NCGA’s Plan to Make School Performance Grades Fuel Voucher Expansion

 

Public Schools First NC (PSFNC.org), an organization that supports advocacy of public education in North Carolina, regularly sends out very informative factoids through social media that give texture to the landscape of the politics associated with public education.

With the current recess of the General Assembly after its disastrous budget proposal for public education, it takes a lot of eyes to sift through the muck and make sure that all deficiencies are identified and brought to light because those who made this budget did so behind closed doors without political discourse and with partisan agendas. PSFNC.org is invaluable in that respect.

One of those agendas is to help ensure that vouchers will continue to be funded and expanded at astronomical rates.

This morning Public Schools First NC tweeted this graphic:

Budget fact

Those school performance grades 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.”

The people who made the decision to keep both the school performance grading system formula where it is and still expand vouchers ABSOLUTELY UNDERSTAND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PROFICIENCY AND GROWTH. IT HELPS TO VALIDATE THEIR WANT OF MORE VOUCHERS.

If one thing is for certain, North Carolina’s school performance grades are a confirmation that student poverty levels have so much to do with how schools perform.

With the tweet sent out this morning, PSFNC.org, also had a link to a quick fact “sheet” about school performance grades in North Carolina. It is very much worth a look on any person’s part, especially public school advocates – http://www.publicschoolsfirstnc.org/resources/fact-sheets/quick-facts-a-f-school-performance-grades-2/?platform=hootsuite.

PSFNC1

There’s a table in the report that talks about the link between these grades and poverty levels from 2015–16 Performance and Growth of North Carolina Public Schools Executive Summary, NC DPI.

PSFNC2

You can also refer to another posting from this blog from last year that talks about the correlation between the grades and state poverty levels – https://caffeinatedrage.com/2016/09/05/map-it-and-it-becomes-very-apparent-that-poverty-affects-schools/.

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!

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.

With policies that still hurt the working poor and those in poverty (which in NC affects over 20% of students) and the refusal to expand Medicaid and the other policies that hurt poorer regions, it is almost certain that poverty will have as much if not a bigger role in school performance grades in the near future.

Guess what else is happening in 2019-2010? Voucher expansion!

PSFNC.org made mention of the Opportunity Grants being expanded in a Facebook posting a day ago. It references the following from the recently passed budget by the NC General Assembly:

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

For the 2027-2028 fiscal year and each fiscal year thereafter, there is appropriated from the General Fund to the Reserve the sum of one hundred forty-four million eight hundred forty Page 14 Senate Bill 257-Ratified thousand dollars ($144,840,000) to be used for the purposes set forth in this section. When developing the base budget, as defined by G.S. 143C-1-1, for each fiscal year specified in this subsection, the Director of the Budget shall include the appropriated amount specified in this subsection for that fiscal year.”

Read that first line again: “due to the critical need in this State to provide opportunity for school choice for North Carolina students.”

That “critical need” has been created in part by making sure that many schools look bad – i.e., school performance grades. With a shrinking scale, more schools will “fail” and most of those schools will have higher levels of poverty in their student populations.

Those are exactly the students who will be targeted for expanding vouchers, because the Opportunity Grants are supposed to help “low-income” students.

And look when that expansion will start to take place – the school year of 2018-2019 with another 10 million dollars. However, our state budgets go in cycles of two years. That means that the next budget if the powers that be stay in power can come back and expand vouchers even more.

Starting right when those school performance grades change scales.

They know damn well the difference between proficiency and growth – the less proficient public schools look in the eyes of the public through a lens that the NC General Assembly prescribes, the more growth for vouchers in this state.

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

yearbook

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

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

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

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

In fact, it will increase.

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

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

Yearbooks capture the culture and spirit of a school.

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

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

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

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

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

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

They would not be able to.

Some things just can’t be measured.

Growth Vs. Proficiency, School Performance Grades, & A Dissenting Vote

Simply put, North Carolina should allow student growth to weigh more in the formula that measures school performance grades. (Honestly, we should get rid of it).

This past week a bill passed the General Assembly House K-12 Education Committee that according to an EdNC.org report from Alex Granados “would change the calculation of the grades from 80 percent academic performance and 20 percent growth to a 50-50 split” (https://www.ednc.org/2017/03/15/house-committee-tackles-school-performance-grade-change/).

Granados explains,

“Academic performance is measured by students’ proficiency on statewide tests whereas academic growth is how much academic progress students make during the year.”

For those who suffer from Betsy DeVos’s “I Don’t Know The Difference Between Proficiency And Growth Syndrome”, that means more of an emphasis on whether students are growing from the beginning of the year to the end of the school year.

And this is a step in the right direction for a group of lawmakers who have shown to be less than proficient when it comes to helping public education.

Proficiency is measured by tests. And no, I am not advocating that we eliminate all tests, but when a state can administer tests that are constructed arbitrarily, many times graded by computer, converted by unknown algorithms, and mostly unexplained with ambiguous score reports, then feedback on improvement is almost nonexistent.

Tweak an algorithm here and a cut score there and quite a number of school performance grades change. Proficiency becomes a luck of the draw. Growth then becomes less emphasized when growth is what we are after the whole time.

Athletes train to get better. Professionals work to get better. Skills are worked on to become sharper. They seek growth.

And to think that all of the students who walk in to a classroom come in at the same level is ludicrous. Too many factors affecting their academic performance outside of class weigh heavily on their achievement on the very items that lawmakers say measure “proficiency” – hunger, poverty, health, safety, emotional and mental health, the list goes on.

Ironically, lawmakers can do a lot more about those factors and actually ensure that there is more potential for growth in many of our students.

Granados’s report also talked about one dissenting vote in the committee’s debate about changing the formula for school performance grades.

The lone holdout on Tuesday’s vote was committee co-chair Rep. Debra Conrad, R-Forsyth. She said her county has several D and F schools, but she thinks the emphasis should be on performance because the goal is to get students on grade level. She said that is what academic performance encapsulates.

What Rep. Conrad should maybe consider is that performance gets better when students grow. And if proficiency is measured by moving targets like standardized tests, then what is considered grade level can pretty much be summed up in the same manner.

conrad

Are those students growing? That’s the question.

If very schools in her county which received “D’s” and “F’s” were growing students at great lengths but still were not at what she considered grade level, then I would consider those schools and teachers a success. Considering what factors they were against, what odds they faced, and what resources they had to gather on their own, they put students first. They saw progress and had faith in a process.

Where Rep. Conrad looked at a bottom line, maybe those teachers saw real people.

But then again, we could also take that paradigm and shift it to “test” those who seem bent on judging others on proficiency.

With another year sans NCAA Tournament games in a state that literally sweats NCAA basketball, it is rather ironic that Rep. Conrad talk about staying at “grade level” when a bill she openly supported (HB2) is literally hurting our state economically to the point that CBS game commentators talk about it during Duke’s opening round game.

The hundreds of millions of dollars lost because of HB2 certainly is not indicative of being of “grade-level” or of being “proficient.” Hell, it’s not even “growth.”

Oh, by the way, this past week Michigan did away with its school performance grades and even West Virginia did away with it for this year citing inconsistencies with the grading system that so many in Raleigh embraced.

Sounds like the grading system is not proficient.

North Carolina – FULLY FUND YOUR SCHOOLS!

This article should be talked about more than it has been especially in North Carolina whose state government has been entertaining ideas of revamping how it allocates its k-12 funding per LEA. It appeared in the New York Times’ “The Upshot” on Dec. 12th and is entitled “It Turns Out Spending More Probably Does Improve Education” (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/12/nyregion/it-turns-out-spending-more-probably-does-improve-education.html).

The article centers on a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research conducted by two economists from the University of California at Berkley and one from Northwestern University.

The names of those two institutions carries enough ethos to lend more than enough credibility to the findings. Cal-Berkley is considered the top public university in the country if not the world. Northwestern is a top fifteen institution in most rankings.

Here is the abstract of the study (http://www.nber.org/papers/w22011):

“We study the impact of post-1990 school finance reforms, during the so-called “adequacy” era, on absolute and relative spending and achievement in low-income school districts. Using an event study research design that exploits the apparent randomness of reform timing, we show that reforms lead to sharp, immediate, and sustained increases in spending in low-income school districts. Using representative samples from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, we find that reforms cause increases in the achievement of students in these districts, phasing in gradually over the years following the reform. The implied effect of school resources on educational achievement is large.”

Notice that it says “reforms.” But please do not let the word encompass all reforms with which you may be familiar. The study is talking about specific reforms that focus on funding public schools adequately. These are not reforms that include vouchers, charter schools, or other silver bullet “solutions” that actually re-form rather than improve.

What adequately funding schools really means is that schools are fully funded.

The New York Times article also stated the following:

“They found a consistent pattern: In the long run, over comparable time frames, states that send additional money to their lowest-income school districts see more academic improvement in those districts than states that don’t. The size of the effect was significant. The changes bought at least twice as much achievement per dollar as a well-known experiment that decreased class sizes in the early grades.”

That well-known experiment is the one performed by Dr. Frederick Mosteller from Harvard in 1995 which concluded that “Compelling evidence that smaller classes help, at least in early grades, and that the benefits derived from these smaller classes persist leaves open the possibility that additional or different educational devices could lead to still further gains” (http://www.princeton.edu/futureofchildren/publications/docs/05_02_08.pdf).

And the NEBR study says the positive effect of adequately funding low income school districts was “twice as much” as decreased class size.

How the money is spent is just as important as having the money to spend and one of the researchers makes that point clearly. And he should.

In a “reform-addicted” state that North Carolina has become in these last few years, the argument has been made by many that “throwing” money at public education has not yielded positive results. But who has been making the decisions on how those monies should be spent? Lawmakers or actual educators? When state lawmakers make monies available to local districts but attach certain strings to those funds as to how they must be spent, then something might be amiss.

Many who ran for reelection this year, particularly Pat McCrory and other GOP stalwarts, padded their resumes and campaign jargon with talk of how they actually increased spending for public schools. Most of them point to the fact that North Carolina spends nearly one billion dollars more now than it did before the Great Recession. One only has to read op-eds like the one by Phil Kirk, the chairman emeritus of the State Board of Education in the News & Observer this past September (http://www.newsobserver.com/opinion/op-ed/article100215677.html). In my rebuttal to him I simply offered,

“Of course there is more money spent on education now than in the past. North Carolina is one of the fastest growing states in the country. More people mean more students to educate. But it is interesting that the per-pupil expenditure under this present leadership is lower than it was before the Great Recession. Your argument doesn’t hold much credibility when you claim to be spending more overall, yet the average per-pupil expenditure has gone down precipitously.”

Add to that the amazingly spastic targets that schools must hit to even be considered successful in the eyes of the state government when the very tests that are used to measure school effectiveness change frequently. Just take a look at the school performance grades for the state of North Carolina from the past year and what you find is an almost pinpoint representation of where poverty hits our state the hardest. In fact, if you superimpose a map that plots the state’s school performance grades over a map that shows county levels of free and reduced lunches you will see a rather strong correlation. In fact, take a look at another post from this blog – https://caffeinatedrage.com/2016/09/05/map-it-and-it-becomes-very-apparent-that-poverty-affects-schools/.

Counties with lower incomes have schools that suffer more.

If it comes to a decision on how any additional funding is to be spent, then maybe it would make sense to look at who has made those decisions in the first place. In most cases, I would argue that they were made by non-educators – people who do not know what specific essentials are in the greatest need to help their students.

What may work for a school in Hoke County may not be the solution for a school in Alleghany County. It takes people who are in the situation to identify what needs to be done, not a bureaucrat in Raleigh who may never have set foot in a public school as a teacher, administrator, volunteer, or even as a parent.

It is time for North Carolina to fully fund its schools because the other “reforms” that follow have not worked to help our public school system:

  • 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

Most all of those “reforms” are cost-cutting measures that actually remove money from public education. Ironically the very reform that the study which opens this posting talks about as having the greatest effect on lower income counties is completely antithetical to the reforms championed by the state.

Imagine what could be done if our schools were fully funded because it is apparent what happens when they are not fully funded.

North Carolina’s Man-Made Educational Climate Change

 

NASA’s Global Climate Change website is dedicated to educating people about human influence on the environment. Under the “Scientific Consensus” tab it states,

“Multiple studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals1 show that 97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree: Climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities” (http://climate.nasa.gov/scientific-consensus/).

When 97% of publishing climate scientists make the same observation, it should not only cause people to take notice, but spur them into action.  Global warming is theorized to be behind the rise in catastrophic weather like hurricanes, extreme heat, excessive cold spells, floods, and erratic patterns of rain and drought.

global-warming1

An astounding number of educators in our traditional schools here in North Carolina would assert that there has been a significant change in the climate of the public school system whose terrain has also been victimized by floods of standardized tests, droughts of legitimate support from governing bodies, catastrophic storms of baseless criticism, the heat of reform efforts, and the freeze of privatization attempts.

In short, public education has been metaphorically altered by man-made climate change. And just like actual climate change, we as a state and as a nation are approaching a tipping point where the effects of climate change will be irreversible and our citizens will suffer.

Just like the many deniers of climate change and others who do not believe that humans have interfered with the health of the Earth, many people in North Carolina cannot conceive that what has happened to our public school system in the last four years has been detrimental to our schools and/or directly caused by uninformed politicians.

Simply look at the many claims coming from the governor’s office concerning his “Carolina Comeback” that includes assertions about teacher pay, graduation rate, funding, and college tuition and one can see a singular manufactured picture of what the governor wants you to believe North Carolina is at all times (https://www.patmccrory.com/results/). However, saying that we just experienced a day of mild temperatures and blue skies does not erase the fact that certain patterns have been put into place that erode both our physical environment and the public educational situation.

Man-made climate change in our public schools has included giving huge raises to a select few and claiming an erroneous average salary increase for all while ignoring veteran teachers.

It has included removal of due-process rights and graduate degree pay bumps.

It has included arbitrary evaluations systems and a push for merit pay where merit is based on standardized tests that do not measure growth.

It has included attacks on advocacy groups and the removal of class size caps.

It has included a revolving door of standardized tests constructed by for-profit entities and graded by outside institutions.

It has included a money-siphoning voucher system, unregulated charter school growth, and the creation of an Achievement School District, all of which have no history of success in other implementations.

It has included the use of a school grading system that literally displays the effects of poverty on public school children and the schools that service them.

The climate has severely suffered. Fewer students are entering the education field. Too many school systems have vacancies that still need to be filled. Veteran teachers are moving to other states, moving to other school systems, or beginning new careers.

And students are the victims. Not only do we leave them with a physical world that is rapidly losing its health, but we leave them unprepared because their public schools are not being properly funded.

We in North Carolina have just been witness to Hurricane Matthew. It wreaked havoc on our state and dumped tremendous amounts of rain on our towns and cities causing damage and flooding in places like Kinston and Lumberton.  Even the Triad area experienced flooding. The governor to his credit declared a state of emergency for these areas opening monies and resources to be used so that all affected citizens can receive the help needed to rebuild and reclaim.

Has he and those in power on West Jones Street in Raleigh done the same for our public schools? Have they released the funds necessary for our teachers and staffs to make sure that we have a strong foundation of public education? They say they have, but they have not. The climate of public education is proof of that.

And we are reaching a point of no return. Therefore, it is incumbent that we combat the sources of educational climate change and it begins on November 8th. We have the power to place people in office who can stop this man-made climate change in our public schools.

So get out and vote.

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.