(I)ntruding on (S)chools (D)eliberately – Why There is Nothing Innovative About NC’s ISD Reform

Last week’s State Board of Education meeting saw a potential list of schools to be considered for the new NC Innovation School District whittled down to four.

The ISD Superintendent, Dr. Eric Hall, made his presentation to the SBOE answering questions and doing what he is expected to do: his job. And to all accounts that favor the use of the ISD, he has been doing well.

But no matter how “well” he is doing his job, it still does not cover the grossly intrusive nature and the glaring apparent contradiction that is North Carolina’s version of the “Achievement School District.”

This has been tried before in other states, most recently and most notably in Tennessee. Simply “google” Tennessee’s experiment to quickly find how unsuccessful that initiative was. State leaders who championed the use of the ASD here promised that it would be different in our state because, well, because….

If one looks at the time-line, the care, the money, and the soft kid gloves used to handle the selection of schools, then one can easily see that NC’s version of instituting an ASD really shows how North Carolina’s General Assembly and SBOE have weakened public schools. It almost seems that if any institution needs to be taken over because of its performance, then it would be a certain building on West Jones Street.

Consider the following:

  1. The word “innovative.”

Shakespeare had his famous Juliet say, “…a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Simply changing the name from ASD to ISD does not automatically alter the outcome. It still smells as “sweet” or in this case, pungent.

Handing over community schools to charter control is simply not innovative. It’s privatization. Looking to “for-profit” charter chains to bring “new ideas” when the very constraints that are holding back many of these “low-achieving” schools could be remedied by better treatment from Raleigh to the very populations that feed these schools is not innovative. It’s creating a situation that gives the appearance of a need from outside sources so that someone may profit.

  1. The State Superintendent’s mantra of “local control.”

If the control for power for NC’s public schools goes in favor of the NCGA and Mark Johnson, then Johnson will have control over the ISD. Yet, is it not Johnson who ran a platform that emphasized local control of schools? From an interview with WUNC in May of this year (http://wunc.org/post/qa-nc-superintendent-wants-give-schools-flexibility#stream/0):

“ But there is the distrust between people in Raleigh and out in the local school districts of whether or not that may be happening.”

“This department in Raleigh needs to be a place that is seen as a department that supports schools in the local districts, not tells schools what to do. “

With this particular “innovation,” what Raleigh is actually doing is telling systems what to do. Leaders may be saying that schools have a say in whether they want to be a part of the ISD, but look what happens if schools who are chosen for the ISD refuse to become part of the ISD – close down.

From WRAL on Sept. 18th:

“Once the state board selects a school for inclusion in the ISD, the local board of education that runs the school has two options – agree to relinquish control of the school or close it down” (http://www.wral.com/durham-johnston-schools-ask-to-be-excluded-from-nc-s-new-innovative-school-district/16948299/).

That’s not local control. That’s overreach.

  1. No one wants to be a part of it.

There is no indication that any single school on the list of prospective schools to be taken over by the Innovative School District wants to be a part of it.

Not one.

Again, not one – even after meeting with officials representing the ISD.

  1. Possible one school district?

After last week’s meeting with the State Board, it became apparent that it might be possible that the NC ISD has for the first year only one-school.

That’s a one-school district with one superintendent making $150,000 to run it with the unwavering support of the state superintendent, the state board, and the General Assembly. That school district will get every resource possible to make it work.

Imagine if every school in the state got that kind of support.

  1. Proving that poverty affects schools.

Alex Granados from EdNC.org this past Thursday published a report entitled “List of schools eligible for ISD cut to four.”

In it he articulated the selection process for the ISD school list.

Originally, he said he had a list of 48 schools based on the criteria set out in legislation. First, his team removed all schools that had school improvement grants which might be affected by joining the ISD. 

“We removed those schools because we know that they’re on a path, and they have additional resources, and we don’t want to see anything happen to those resources,” he said. 

That brought the number down to 41. Then his team removed all D schools, leaving them with only the F schools. Then they removed all F schools that met academic growth last year. 

“If they met growth, the hope is that the needle is going to start moving in the right direction,” he said. 

That left him with only F schools that did not meet growth last year. Then his team looked at the two years prior to last year. If the schools had met growth in those two years and also had a D, he said his team gave them the benefit of the doubt. 

Finally, they looked at the schools in the districts where 35 percent or more of the schools qualify as low performing. Those are the districts where all the schools could join the innovation zone if a school was chosen for the ISD. That brought the list down to six schools, two of which were removed at the meeting (https://www.ednc.org/2017/10/05/list-schools-eligible-isd-cut-four/).

If ever there was a correlation to poverty and student achievement, this list shows it because these schools were measured by the Jeb-Bush style grading system that literally shows that most every school which has an “F” school performance grade is one that services a population with high levels of poverty.

Even DPI’s recent report on school report cards grades and poverty yielded the following graph:

poverty table

DPI is run by Mark Johnson who is controlled by the General Assembly and may soon have control over the ISD process. That’s the same General Assembly which brags about a state surplus while lowering per pupil expenditure, expanding vouchers, and refusing to expand Medicaid. Oh, and they cut DPI’s budget drastically without the state superintendent fighting it.

That’s not innovation. It’s proof that the Innovative School District is yet another attempt at weakening the ties between the community and its schools to create a veiled appearance that the state needs to step in and do something that will profit someone else.

In Actuality State Supt. Johnson, You Are the “Status Quo” – Concerning Today’s Court Decision

Mark Johnson claims that he wants to change the “status quo.”

But in reality he wants to protect the “status quo.”

In fact, he is the “status quo.”

The-STATUS-QUO-Entrepreneur

The term “status quo” has become something of a nebulous term for public education and has evolved into a powerful logical fallacy used by reformers.

Consider the following from this afternoon’s News & Observer report from T. Keung Li and Lynn Bonner, two of the better education reporters here in the South.

“I am disappointed by the court’s ruling today,” Johnson said in a statement. “Chairman Cobey and Vice Chair (A.L.) Collins are vigorously defending the status quo for our education system at the expense of students, educators, and taxpayers” (http://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/education/article173307171.html).

The above states that the “status quo” of public education in North Carolina is not acceptable and therefore must be changed. It was said by Mark Johnson, NC State Superintendent of Public Schools after a three judge panel ruled to keep a stay in the months long battle of control of the state’s public schools.

Li and Bonner continue,

The judges agreed to continue delaying by 30 days its July ruling that upheld a state law that shifts more control over public education operations to Johnson.

The use of the “status quo” fallacy is not new, certainly for Mark Johnson (https://caffeinatedrage.com/2017/01/27/dont-fall-for-the-status-quo-fallacy-concerning-public-education/).

And it is a crutch that has reached absurdity because in actuality, Mark Johnson might be the very poster child for the “status quo.”

What Johnson and other business model reformers consider the “status quo” in education is intrinsically linked to a final product, measured by standardized testing and other mercurial measurements. However, the real “status quo” is not really linked to that final product. It is more a reflection of the constant infusion of reform models that have altered the process by which public schools have been able to teach our children. The truth is that the existing state of public education is always being subjected to scrutiny, modification, alteration, and change from outside forces for political or profit-minded reasons.

What I would consider the “status quo” is the commitment to flux and change to the variables that measure student achievement and school success by people outside of the actual education process. And in that regard, I do agree that the status quo should change.

If anything, the terrain of public education has been in a state of constant flux for the past thirty years. With the “Nation at Risk” report to “No Child Left Behind” to the advent of high stakes testing to the innumerable business models infused into education to “Race to the Top” to Common Core to charter school movement to vouchers, the thought of even calling what we have had in North Carolina “status quo” is not just wrong –

It’s ignorant. And it is purposefully done.

And all of those causes in the change to the “status quo” were not necessarily brought by educators as much as by politicians and business leaders, Johnson included as he echoes and rubber stamps the very policies and initiatives championed by NC General Assembly GOP stalwarts. The very actions that have caused their version of the“status quo” are allowing politicians to blame public education for failing to hit targets that are constantly moving or in many cases invisible so that “leaders” and reformers can come and claim to save the day.

That’s how we get Mark Johnson, the most unqualified state superintendent propped up by a General Assembly that not only has gerrymandered districts and pushed unconstitutional laws, but has spent taxpayer money to help transfer power away from the State Board of Education to a puppet superintendent to privatize the public good of public education even more.

That’s how we get absolutely lame duck explanations about today’s ruling from Johnson including:

“I am confident I will eventually be able to lead the positive transformation for our schools that the people of North Carolina voted for over 10 months ago.”

It’s as if he conveniently forgot that the people elected him to be state superintendent based on the job description and powers of office attached to every other state superintendent before him.

It’s as if he forgot that what he claims he needs to lead the state’s school system has to include what powers were granted to him without the input of the people by a biased NCGA weeks AFTER he was elected.

It’s as if he forgets that in the months since he has assumed office he has done absolutely NOTHING to change what he claims to be the “status quo.” As a state, we have heard nothing about the innovations he said he would bring and the only “urgency” he has used is to keep going back to court with taxpayer money to gain the power to divert more taxpayer money to vouchers and unregulated charter schools.

It’s as if he forgets that he himself is the “status quo.”

If one were to simply look at all of the initiatives introduced into public education (both nationally and state-based) while considering changes in curriculum and requirements, that person would see an ever changing landscape.

A Nation at Risk, No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, Every Student Succeeds Act, Common Core, SAT, ACT, standardized tests, achievement gap, graduation rates, merit pay, charter schools, parent triggers, vouchers, value added-measurements, virtual schools, Teach For America, formal evaluations – there are so many variables, initiatives, and measurements that constantly change without consistency which all affect public schools and how the public perceives those schools.

When entities like the Gates Foundation, the Walton Foundation, the Broad Foundation, the American Federation of Children, the American Legislation Exchange Council (ALEC), think tanks, and other PAC’s are constantly promoting reforms in public schools, the idea that there is a “status quo” becomes implausible. Those entities are all active in North Carolina and they see Mark Johnson as their man.

He will protect their “status quo.”

So if there is any “status quo” associated with the public schools, it’s that there are always outside forces acting on the public school system which seek to show that they are failing our kids.

And it has Johnson’s face attached to it.

That’s the “status quo” that should not be accepted.

 

 

Principals Need More Respect Than This

If you want to look at the reason why a school performs well, then look to the relationships that surround the people: student, teachers, parents, community, staff, and what might be one of the most underappreciated roles in public education – the principal.

Principles-for-Hiring-Principals

The responsibility of a principal is hard to even describe, much less fathom, if you have not been in administration before. They are the face of a school, the sounding board of a community, and the instructional leaders.

When a principal is effective, great things happen in a school. When a principal is ineffective, all facets of a school can stagnate.

All effective principals understand that the most sacred dynamic in the school is the student-teacher relationship. They understand that education is a people centered endeavor, not a transaction. They understand that a single test does not define a person.

Yet, principals in North Carolina rank 50th in the United States when it comes to salary.

That’s 50th.Out of 51.

So the powers that be in Raleigh did something about it. Maybe they finally realized that recruiting and properly compensating principals would be greatly enhanced if they had a competitive salary.

Therefore, they “reformed” it. The problem is that those lawmakers forgot that education is a people-centered avocation – not a production line manufacturing plant of knowledge dispensation.

As the venerable Lindsay Wagner (newly housed within the Public School Forum of NC) wrote this week,

North Carolina’s principals, whose salaries ranked 50th in the nation in 2016, watched this year as lawmakers changed how they are compensated, moving away from a salary schedule based on years of service and earned credentials to a so-called performance-based plan that relies on students’ growth measures (calculated off standardized test scores) and the size of the school to calculate pay” (https://www.ncforum.org/new-principal-pay-plan-could-result-in-steep-salary-reductions-for-veteran-principals/).

Yep, they really did something about it. As Wagner states,

But the plan’s design has produced scenarios that result in some veteran principals conceivably earning as much as 30 percent less than what they earned on the old  pay schedules—prompting some to consider early retirements.”

They made a terrible situation even worse.

This salt-infused Band-Aid of a reform is yet another example of a rough-shod method that lawmakers have used to overhaul a once thriving public school system into a shadow of its former self –  all in the name of improving education.

If one reads the entirety of Wagner’s report, it becomes apparent that the new principal pay plan is long on political ideology and short of thoughtful research and reflection. Too many scenarios exist that could force many a principal to see stark reductions in salary based on arbitrary test scores. Veteran principals, which are becoming a rare breed in NC, would even be encouraged to retire early.

But one comment really stands out.

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

It seems no one really knows who came up with the new pay plan. And that is just further proof of the problem that truly exists in Raleigh.

The problem? Lawmakers and other bureaucrats forgot that education is centered around process and progress, not test scores. They forgot that growth means more than arbitrary proficiency. They forgot that educators collaborate and not compete.

It is telling when you read a state board member say,

“The General Assembly really needs a partner called DPI, who understands the implications of various legislative proposals and can prepare expert advice on the outcomes that might result.”

What that means is that there is no communication. No collaboration. No respect for process. No respect for growth.

A good principal could have told them that.

For a group of people who have so much power over public schools, they sure could use a good education in how schools really work.

 

 

Collaboration. Not Competition. That’s What We Need For Public Schools.

“Collaborate” :intransitive verb. Noun form is “collaboration” – 1:to work jointly with others or together especially in an intellectual endeavor 

Simply put, collaboration as described in that first definition from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary website is the best resource/tool that a school can have and that leaders can encourage.

What makes schools work best are the relationships between the people: administration, teachers, students, parents, and community. No set of standards, no checklist, no standardized test, and no evaluation criteria can ever really measure the importance of people using other people as their best resources to create a collaborative learning environment where students can achieve optimally.

In a “reform – minded” culture that promotes business models for education and screams for “competition” on an uneven playing field, the very entity that really gets eroded is the ability for professional educators to “work jointly with others or together.” Initiatives like merit pay, bonuses for test scores, removal of class size caps, and elimination of due-process rights creates a culture of insular competition.

Public education is not a partisan issue. The state constitution specifically ensures that each student is entitled to a quality public education. It is a public good and a public service. The key word there is “public” and not “private.”

The picture below from WRAL.com shows the meeting room of the State Board of Education.

SBOE

In rather ornate fashion the state constitution is quoted on the wall. It says, “THE PEOPLE HAVE A RIGHT TO THE PRIVILEGE OF EDUCTION AND IT IS THE DUTY OF THE STATE TO GUARD AND MAINTAIN THAT RIGHT.”

The two people sitting right below that quote are Bill Cobey, Chairman of the Board, and Mark Johnson, the State Superintendent.

To say that those two are not collaborating is putting it mildly.

This Thursday, the State Board of Education and the State Superintendent will be back in court – facing each other in competition. Melissa Broughton’s report in NC Policy Watch this week highlights the inability for the very people who control schools to actually collaborate amongst themselves. From Broughton:

“The three-judge panel that ruled in favor of Johnson in a lawsuit over a transfer of power from the Board will hear a motion for a temporary stay pending the Board’s appeal. According to the motion, counsel for both parties spent six weeks trying to come to an agreement for a temporary stay but were unsuccessful” (http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2017/09/11/nc-board-education-superintendent-mark-johnson-return-court-later-week/#sthash.D186QZe3.dpbs).

That same piece also included a rather telling graphic.

PUBLIC-EDUCATION-300x251

It suggests that the stability of our state’s capacity to offer a quality free public education rests on the willingness of the “legs” to collaboratively work together. However, that is not happening. They are too much in competition.

Most people who follow education in North Carolina know that when Mark Johnson was elected state superintendent, he was almost immediately granted excessive legislative powers to run the public schools by the NC General Assembly in a power grab. That is what precipitated the lawsuit that is still ongoing and the current “stay” of the latest court decision. What the NCGA granted Johnson was power that was not thought to be in the hands of a state superintendent when people elected Johnson.

Broughton further reports,

Without a temporary stay pending the Board’s appeal, the law in question that transfers power from the Board to Johnson will move the entire $10 billion public school system under the control of a single individual for the first time in North Carolina history, the motion states.

That transfer of power would change that three-legged dynamic in the graphic above seismically.

Two legs would grow and one would shrink. And the seat that represents our “quality free public education” would not be balanced. Whoever sits on it would fall over.

The checks and balances that help make sure that access to a quality free public education exists for all students relies on the checks and balances of the three entities that help shape educational matters. But rather than collaborate, there has been collusion and competition, especially from Johnson and the NCGA.

And our schools have suffered from it.

It seems that people like Berger, Moore, Barefoot, and other GOP stalwarts as well as Johnson could take a lesson from our teachers in public schools who see collaboration as the key to success in schools.

Of course there are other definitions of “collaboration.” The second one on the Merriam-Webster Dictionary website states,

2:to cooperate with or willingly assist an enemy 

Maybe that’s the collaboration that Johnson and the NCGA are thinking about.

The Total Soulless Educational Eclipse of 2017

On August 21, 2017 parts of western North Carolina will be subject to a total solar eclipse. Other parts of the state will certainly witness the once in a lifetime event. Ironically, most people affected by the eclipse will be in rural areas.

eclispe

On July 25, 2017 all of North Carolina became subject to another darkening of the light – a soulless eclipse of funding for public schools.

And again, the rural areas will see the biggest effects of this shadow cast on communities that send most all of their students to traditional public schools.

But this instance is not a once in a lifetime occurrence. It will be felt for quite a while. What’s even more egregious is that it could totally be prevented.

Yet, the powers that be will hide even more funds from these same areas next year.

As reported in multiple outlets today like WRAL,

The State Board of Education approved $2.5 million in cuts to the state Department of Public Instruction on Tuesday as a result of mandated budget reductions by the General Assembly. Most of the cuts are expected to impact low-performing schools and teacher training in the state. An additional $737,000 in cuts are expected in the coming weeks (http://www.wral.com/state-board-of-education-approves-2-5m-in-budget-cuts-/16840289/).

This comes at a time when our officials in Raleigh are celebrating a state surplus and an expanding “rainy-day” fund.

The cuts made today will especially be felt in the rural areas. Further in the WRAL report referenced earlier,

Board Chairman Bill Cobey declined to say which positions are being cut, citing personnel laws, but said they will be revealed at a later date. He said the majority of the staff cuts will be in the District Transformation and Educator Effectiveness divisions. The board plans to merge the two divisions into a new one, called District Support.

“Hopefully the districts can pick up any slack that is produced by this reduction,” Cobey said. “We’re further reducing the service to the districts. Hopefully you won’t see any huge impact any place, but there’s going to be marginal impact in certain places across the state. And we’re going to try our best to mitigate that.”

Many of these affected districts are in areas that actually are worried about their local hospitals staying open because many of the same GOP members who mandated the cuts to DPI also refused to expand Medicaid which these rural hospitals rely on so that people can pay medical bills.

That particular eclipse started years ago and it appears that things are getting darker. Ask the folks in Sen. Berger’s hometown of Eden.

Perhaps most egregious is that this soulless educational eclipse comes as the NC General Assembly is shining so much sunshine on both the state superintendent and non-traditional schools at the expense of traditional public schools.

As Billy Ball reported in NC Policy Watch today:

Board members were limited in their choices for handing down the legislative funding cuts. General Assembly members forbade cuts from GOP-backed initiatives such as the teacher prep program Teach for America and the Innovative School District, formerly called the Achievement School District, which could allow for-profit charter operators to take over several low-performing schools in the coming years…

Lawmakers ordered the board to stay away from additional funds allocated to create up to 10 new positions in the department reporting directly to Johnson. The move came with Johnson, the board and the legislature mired in a court battle over the powers of the superintendent’s office (http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2017/07/25/teacher-development-struggling-schools-chopping-block-state-board-ed-implements-g-mandated-cuts/).

Also worth mentioning is that the General Assembly gave Johnson $300,000 for legal fees in his defense against the State Board’s lawsuit over a transfer of power done by the GOP in a special session to prop up Johnson as a puppet official.

The state board was forbidden to use state funds in its legal actions.

As true to his nature, Johnson was not present at the actual board meeting but was linked through on a conference call.

Ball continues,

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson, a Republican elected last November, has been silent on the cuts and he did not speak during the public portion of Tuesday’s conference call session, but Cobey has said his office has been sharing proposals for the cuts with board members.

There is Johnson once again not being available to the public as the leader of the public schools.

However, Johnson did release a statement afterwards, one full of pomp, circumstance, and total ambiguity.

“While these funding cuts will be challenging, I did not run for Superintendent of Public Instruction to shirk away from the challenges of leadership. The General Assembly is clearly frustrated with the lack of accountability of the State Board of Education, and I am too. The culture of a non-accountability created by the State Board is one of the reasons I sought funding for a top-to-bottom, third-party review of DPI. By studying the results from this upcoming operational review and working together with the professional staff at DPI, I believe the department will come out stronger, more efficient, and more effective at supporting public schools in NC. The Board seems to prefer to complain and instead focuses only on more of the same. I embrace the positive changes that can result from addressing this substantive challenge head-on. We can and will be a better DPI at the end of this process.”

Listening to Mark Johnson through an impersonal statement is becoming the norm, not the exception. His availability to the people of North Carolina and the educators who work with most of our students has been more sparse than the funds that DPI can now use to staff vital positions in the School Transformation and Educator Effectiveness divisions.

It is rather funny to hear Johnson talk of not “shirking away from the challenges of leadership.” He hasn’t avoided being a leader per-se. It’s more like run the other way. And his comments about accountability are humorous as well. Why? He has not done anything that would make him accountable for anything.

Studying results? Interestingly, he has never disclosed his findings. That includes his findings from the “listening tour” he is still pursuing. And the words “Mark Johnson” and “addressing challenges head-on” have never collided in the same sentence.

Maybe next year, the General Assembly can set aside some money for Johnson to get a spine to actually help stand in front of people and explain his lack of action.

 

Budget Cuts to DPI – A Case for Laying Off Mark Johnson

cuts

“I don’t think anybody’s going to like the cuts we make, because they’ll have to be in the area of services to the districts,” State Board of Education Chairman Bill Cobey.

No truer words have been spoken.

Mr. Cobey’s words are in reference to the $3.2 million dollar cuts that are part of the North Carolina General Assembly’s budget hit on DPI for the next two years.

As reported by Billy Ball today on NC Policy Watch:

Details may not be public yet, but North Carolina K-12 leaders on the State Board of Education will look to pass down $3.2 million in General Assembly-ordered budget calls in a special meeting Tuesday morning.

As reported by Policy Watch last week, the legislative spending cuts for the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) are likely to impact personnel in the state agency and its services for poor and rural districts across the state.

This year’s $3.2 million cut is part of a two-year reduction for the state’s top education bureaucracy, which has been under withering scrutiny from Republican legislators in recent years. The agency had already weathered roughly $20 million in funding reductions since 2009 (http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2017/07/24/state-board-education-vote-dpi-budget-cuts-layoffs-tuesday/#sthash.ufZnGu0C.dpbs).

Ironically, the public has not heard the head of DPI, State Superintendent Mark Johnson, on this matter although it has been said by Comey that he has offered suggestions to where the cuts should be made.

It surely would have to do with layoffs of certain positions. And I hope Johnson was looking in a mirror when he came up with his list of cuts. If such a fiscally unsound, politically-motivated decision to cut funds to DPI is to actually be carried out, it might make a great amount of sense to layoff those people in DPI who really have not done the job.

Therefore, it makes total sense that Mark Johnson be the first to be let go in this budget cut.

Think of it. In all of DPI, he probably has the least amount of experience. Next, he has done really nothing. Name one initiative that he has put into place that has really furthered the cause of public education. And more importantly, the state has already spent an enormous amount of money on him for absolutely no return.

As the state superintendent, Mark Johnson makes $127,000 dollars a year as a salary. Add to that the budgetary lines items that allow him to travel around the state without actually being available to the public and the press at large.

He has been given $300,000 for legal fees against the state board of education whose members were appointed by many of the same people who are giving Johnson this money.

300

He has also been given over $432,000 to create positions in DPI loyal to him as DPI is having its budget cut YET ONCE AGAIN.

432

That’s already nearing a million dollars of ill-spent money on one person who has done more to not do anything as a state superintendent than anyone in history.

If this were a business, and forgive the use of a business model in the talk of educational matters (but sadly that is the way that many in Raleigh think), then Johnson would have already been gone.

Consider the costs of special sessions last year for policies and laws that were secretly crafted and had negative impacts on the state.

  • Special session regarding congressional redistricting: 02/18/16-02/19/16
  • Special session regarding LGBT nondiscrimination measures: 03/23/16
  • Special session regarding S4 and HB17 : 12/14/16 – 12/16/16
  • Special session regarding H2: 12/13/16 – 12/15/16

The redistricting sessions are really mute because the Supreme Court upheld a ruling that NC’s maps were racially gerrymandered. The HB2 law that came in the spring was economically disastrous. S4 and HB17 set up the current debacle that cripples DPI and the state board of education. H2 was about helping victims of Hurricane Matthew – people mostly in rural areas where the effects of cuts to DPI will be felt the most.

Each day for a special session costs taxpayers over $42,000.

There’s another quarter of a million at least.

Consider these tidbits:

Creating and defending HB2 costs taxpayers: $267,500. The North Carolina government is racking up hundreds of thousands of dollars in bills to defend HB2, with more costs to come as legal battles over the law continue. As of July, the state had already spent $176,000on court costs, and former Gov Pat McCrory (R) spent $7,500 of government funds on travel to defend the law on television. The bill was created in a “special session” that cost taxpayers $42,000, and the recent special session that failed to repeal HB2 cost another $42,000. (https://www.commondreams.org/views/2017/01/06/north-carolinas-anti-lgbt-law-has-cost-state-more-560-million-so-far).

AND

Law firms have billed Republican legislative leaders $9.3 million for legal services since January 2011, more than half of which comes from defending voter ID legislation struck down last week by a federal appeals court.

The total spent on private lawyers is more than 20 times the amount the legislature spent on outside counsel in the decade prior and largely covers the cost of fending off challenges to redistricting, the amendment banning gay marriage, vouchers for attending private schools and House Bill 2.

Legislative leaders contend the costs are necessary to protect laws passed by the state’s elected representatives, laws Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat who is running against Gov. Pat McCrory in November, has in several cases declined to defend. It’s a move Republicans have criticized as putting politics above his duties as the state’s top lawyer. (http://www.wral.com/legislature-s-legal-bills-top-9m-in-defense-of-state-laws/15905135/).

What has happened is that the General Assembly spent a hell of a lot of money to enact policies that cannot be defended and enabled unqualified people like Mark Johnson to assume important posts so that more money can be spent on inactivity and stupid legal fees so that people like Mark Johnson can help layoff those people in a vital department who have much more experience in helping public schools.

And our students are hurt by it.

The Most Enabled Man in Raleigh – North Carolina’s State Superintendent

gavel

The July 14th ruling by a three-judge panel in favor of State Supt. Mark Johnson may have been a huge victory on the surface for Johnson’s supporters and those who seek to exert their influence through him and his inexperience.

But it is not a real victory for Johnson himself.

While the office of the state superintendent now has more executive power than at any time, Johnson himself lost more power as an individual in elected office. Why?

Because Mark Johnson just became the most enabled man in all of North Carolina.

Not empowered. Enabled. And that’s not good for public schools.

Consider this – a corporate attorney who taught for two school years through a program that historically does not place many long term teachers into the public schools, who did not complete a full term as a school board member and has never had a child in the public schools was elected in the most contentious election year in recent memory to become state superintendent. After he was elected and before he took office, he was granted more power as a state superintendent by a gerrymandered legislature in a special session that was thought to be called to repeal HB2. He then spent the first six months of his term “embroiled” in a legal battle with the state board of education that is controlled by the same political party and literally has been a non-public figure while a budget that expands vouchers, keeps charter schools from being regulated, lowers per pupil expenditures for traditional public schools, and cuts the budget for the very department he is supposed to run.

All on the taxpayers’ dime.

Lawmakers included about $700,000 in the state budget for Johnson to hire several staffers without the approval of the state board. The budget also provided him with money for his legal expenses while barring the state board from using taxpayer money to fund its lawsuit (http://www.wral.com/judges-rule-for-nc-superintendent-in-battle-with-state-education-board/16820368/).

The man who “won” the lawsuit was financed by the same General Assembly with taxpayer money while the very people who were appointed by the lawmakers in Raleigh had to use other means to finance their legal fees.

Talk about enabling. And “enabling” is not a good word here.

Johnson’s statement on the ruling was certainly sprinkled with pyrite.

“For too long, the lack of clarity about DPI leadership has fostered a system of non-accountability,” Johnson said in a statement. “While this system is great for shifting blame and avoiding responsibility, non-accountability at DPI hurts North Carolina students. Last December, the General Assembly addressed this problem by clarifying the parameters set forth in the NC Constitution. Their efforts offered greater transparency to educators and parents across the state seeking to engage with DPI and greater accountability at DPI.

“Today, the Superior Court has affirmed the constitutionality of the General Assembly’s actions and I look forward to, belatedly, working for more and better change at DPI” (http://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/education/article161450393.html).

It’s rather odd to hear of Johnson talking about “lack of clarity.” Considering that this might be one of the longest quotes attributed to him in his tenure and his press-unfriendly “listening tour” along with no sign of the promised item list of proposals he prophesized this past January, he certainly correct about there being some sort of lack of clarity.

As far as “shifting blame?” No one has been slinging blame as much as the very people who are enabling Johnson.

That “transparency” comment? Halting communication at DPI through the most commonly used listserv to all of the LEA’s in the state is not an act of transparency. That’s an act of muddying the waters.

And that “belatedly” remark? Funny how that word is almost the precise antonym of the word Johnson used in January as he took office – “urgency.”

The man who now controls the Department of Public Instruction which has been further downsized by the very people who financed his lawsuit and who champion the very reforms that hurt the schools he is supposed to protect did not really win.

The people who enable him really won.

Listen to what Phil Berger had to say.

“Voters elected Superintendent Mark Johnson based on his platform of strengthening our state’s public schools, and I’m pleased the court recognized the constitutionality of the law and that our superintendent should be able to execute the platform voters elected him to do” (http://www.wral.com/judges-rule-for-nc-superintendent-in-battle-with-state-education-board/16820368/).

There’s a tremendous amount of smug irony in that statement. Why? Because what voters elected Johnson to do was based on the job description that at the time was associated with the state superintendent’s job. What power Johnson now has was augmented by Berger and his cronies after Johnson was elected in a wave of conservative electoral victory.

If it was so important for the state superintendent to have new power over the public school system that was originally in the hands of the state board of education, then should not have each preceding state superintendent been given the same power?

Apparently not. Because each preceding state superintendent was much more qualified to be such than Johnson is. Each preceding state superintendent would have fought against the measures that have been enabled, enacted, and empowered by the current NCGA because that would have been in the best interests of the traditional public school system.

Especially June Atkinson.

When Berger stated that Johnson was elected on “his platform of strengthening our state’s public schools,” what he really inferred was that Johnson was going to allow “reformers” like Berger to strengthen charter schools and voucher programs – initiatives that actually hurt traditional public schools.

And it is a little sadistically humorous that a man (Berger) who has championed a variety of policies that have been ruled unconstitutional (gerrymandered districts, Voter ID law, etc.) would brag about upholding the constitutionality of the law. That same man also pushed to not extend Medicaid in this state when so many people needed it and now the very hospital in his hometown of Eden has filed for bankruptcy (http://myfox8.com/2017/07/11/morehead-memorial-hospital-files-for-bankruptcy/).

And that is not to mention what all is being done by this General Assembly to alter the court system in the state to become more politically aligned with its agenda.

What really happened on July 14th was that Mark Johnson showed how controlled he is as the state superintendent. He showed that he is now more than ever beholden to the very General Assembly that will opaquely exert its will on public education by controlling the very person whose only transparency comes in the form of his credentials for being state superintendent because they are so paper thin.

That is no victory for public schools.

There still is hope. There is still an injunction and a sure appeal to a higher court.

I would be remiss if I did not flat out state that if the General Assembly empowered public school teachers one-tenth the amount that they enable Mark Johnson, then I would have no need for this blog.

However, whatever power Johnson has been given, he still does not have enough to keep me from wanting to be a public school teacher in North Carolina.

Six Months Into Office – An Open Letter to Supt. Mark Johnson

“The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction provides leadership to 115 local public school districts and 160 charter schools serving over 1.5 million students in kindergarten through high school graduation. The agency is responsible for all aspects of the state’s public school system and works under the direction of the North Carolina State Board of Education.”http://www.dpi.state.nc.us

Dear Supt. Johnson,

When you assumed the office of state school superintendent over six months ago, you gave some initial remarks to at a state board of education meeting that talked about your sense of urgency in transforming our schools. In fact, you said,

“Today is Jan. 5, 2017. There will never be another Jan. 5, 2017 ever again. No matter how we use this day, if we make the most of it, if we waste it, it’s gone. Every day we don’t take bold actions for our students is a day we lose. Every day we don’t take bold actions for our teachers, is a day they lose.”

Today is July 9, 2017. There will never be another July 9th, 2017 ever again.  Since January 5th, there have been 186 days with unique dates attached to them that will never occur again – days that could be filled with bold actions for students and teachers and schools.

I have two students in my house, a rising tenth grader who aspires to go to college and a rising fourth grader who has an IEP and needs his teaching assistant as much as his regular teacher. In those 186 days, what bold actions have you taken for them?

I am a public school teacher. In those 186 days, what bold actions have you taken for me and my fellow educators?

Those are not rhetorical questions. Those are valid questions.

Shortly after you made your statement of “urgency” you launched a listening tour called “The NC Education & Innovation Tour” that “pledged to conduct a listening tour to hear directly from educators, parents, and community leaders across North Carolina” (http://www.dpi.state.nc.us/newsroom/news/2016-17/20170202-01). Each stop seems to have been held behind closed doors without public input.

You said that you would come back in the summer and return with action items hopefully still with that since of “urgency.”

Once that tour is completed, Johnson said, he promised to return with action items. In the meantime, he lobbied school leaders to act with urgency to improve conditions in some of North Carolina’s lowest-performing schools (http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2017/01/05/new-superintendent-public-instruction-highlights-urgent-need-transform-outdated-school-system/).

  • Summer is here.
  • School year has been over for weeks. Graduation was a month ago.
  • Summer school has been in session for a while.
  • Sports physicals for fall sports are already due and teams have been to camps.
  • PTSA’s are working on help next year’s budgets.
  • Schedules have already been made for students and teachers.
  • Supplies have been ordered.
  • Professional development has been taken.
  • DPI has received a budget that is less than what it has been.
  • AP scores have been sent out.

And where are you? Where is your item list? What have you learned? What do you have to say for what has happened in the state since you took office? When do you plan on addressing the state board of education? When do you plan on addressing the 115 local public school districts, 160 charter schools serving over 1.5 million students, their parents and communities, as well as the taxpayers and the thousands of teachers?

Those are not rhetorical questions.

Because every day that you do not take action to show leadership for our schools as an elected official is a day we all lose.Seal_of_the_North_Carolina_Board_of_Education

The Best Editorial Concerning Mark Johnson’s Tenure In Recent Memory

From the Sunday July 2, 2017 News & Observer Editorial Board:

NAO-logo

North Carolina Republicans continue to meddle in education

Next Stop on the “Listening Tour” – NC State Superintendent Mark Johnson vs. The NC State Board of Education

It appears that there may be more bickering in the backrooms of Raleigh than many have been hearing in the other parts of North Carolina.

At least that is what some people claim to be hearing on their own “listening tours.”

Lynn Bonner’s recent April 13th report in the Raleigh News & Observer entitled “NC Republicans fighting among themselves over education, court papers show” opened with the following:

The State Board of Education and the Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson are on opposite sides of a legal battle over who controls public education.

Lawyers for both sides filed court documents in the case this week, asking a three-judge panel to decide the case in their favor.

The state education board is suing the state over a law passed in December that transfers some of its powers to Johnson, who is serving his first term. Johnson has entered the suit on the state’s side. Republicans run both the legislature and the state education board, and Johnson is a Republican (http://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/education/article144469134.html#storylink=cpy).

This is actually humorously confusing and quite telling when it comes to the gridlock that power can create.

DPI

So, let me get this straight. Mark Johnson is a republican who was elected in a wave of republican sentiment to take over a job that was held for years by a democrat and then given a lot more power as a state superintendent by a republican super-majority in a special session of the NC General Assembly that was meeting to really address a republican-driven HB2 law that was responsible for a republican losing the governor’s mansion when another republican long shot won the presidency the same night and the first republican mentioned in this chain of thought is now being sued by the republican controlled State Board of Education who claim that the new republican heading DPI is overstepping his authority.

Yep. That’s right. A republican is being sued by republicans after republicans gave him powers in a special session that republicans called to “help repeal” a law passed by republicans that actually cost republicans the governor’s race.

The fact that the State Board of Education is suing to keep powers that it has always had is the right thing to do, but Bonner’s report does highlight a huge disconnect that Mark Johnson has with politics and education.

Bonner states,

Lawyers for the state board said the law is unconstitutional, while Johnson said he should be able to do the job voters elected him to do

Actually, Johnson is wrong there. The “law” was passed after Johnson was elected. Voters did nor elect him to do something that a special session supposedly gave him power to do after November’s election day.

More from Bonner:

Johnson said in an affidavit that the system the state board has for hiring people who report both to him and the board doesn’t work.

Actually, it has worked. It just doesn’t work well enough for those who are wanting to control Johnson as the state superintendent. That’s why there was a special session at the end of the calendar year under the auspices of repealing a damaging HB2 law to grant his office more power than it has ever known when the office is being held by a gentleman who has just as much experience running for office than he does in education itself.

The least experienced person to ever hold the job was to have the most power the job ever had.

Johnson’s quote toward the end of the article is rather telling as well.

“Having both the State Board and the Superintendent of Public Instruction – up to 14 individuals in total – involved in the day-to-day management of DPI slows decision making to a crawl and makes it difficult to implement any changes or be responsive to the needs of the education community.”

What decisions is Mr. Johnson referring to?

What changes are needed to be done for the education community?

And those are not rhetorical questions. Johnson came into the office with really no new ideas to present, just overarching “goals” about less testing and more local control which is ironic with the HB13 debacle going on in the very chamber that gave Johnson so much power in that special session last calendar year.

When Johnson took office in 2017, he announced he was going on a “listening tour” and then release his “legislative agenda” this summer – months after he took office. That means he did not really have any “changes” in mind when he got into office.

Is it not ironic that Johnson has held most of his listening tour behind closed doors and that most of the actions he has been most public in regards to his brief tenure is about how he is trying to establish a form of transparent leadership in the Department of Public Instruction?

Does it not sound like a teacher who walks into a class and wants to just observe the students for a few months while claiming to be gathering information to best instruct those students, but spends most of his time arguing with the administration about what supplies he thinks he should have in his desk?

Maybe, just maybe, the “listening tour” should be more public and also include stops within Raleigh inside DPI.

Mark Johnson did once say on January 5th in the State Board of Education meeting (and his first week in office),

“Every day that we don’t take bold actions for our students is a day that our students lose. Every day that we don’t take bold actions for our teachers is a day that our teachers lose.”

It’s been over three months and the school year is rapidly coming to an end.

Yet what is happening right now is not bold and it is certainly nor benefiting students or teachers.