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.

Open Letter to Alan Hawkes of the Charter School Advisory Board in Response to His Comments About the “SOB’s” at the SBOE

Dear Mr. Hawkes,

An NC Policy Watch report from Billy Ball today (“Tempers flare among charter school supporters as state tightens vetting process“) showed that the new rift between the State Board of Education (SBOE) and the Charter School Advisory Board (CSAB) is still growing and seemingly fostering some ill will, at least on your part as a board member of the CSAB.

Thirteen days ago, the SBOE granted only eight approvals in a pool of 28 new charter school applications that the CSAB had presented for approval. The process is that the CSAB recommends acceptations of applications for charter schools and then the SBOE “signs off” on them.

In the past, it seems to have been a formality, especially when the cap on the number of charter schools was removed. But in a clear reversal of usual protocol, the SBOE practiced more scrutiny in giving approvals, and I along with many, many other public school advocates am grateful for that.

You made the following statement that really serves as a barometer for the magnitude of the SBOE’s actions. You stated as Mr. Ball reported,

“Don’t get me started about public charter school no-nothings (sic) on the NC State Board of Education,” Hawkes wrote in an email to Policy Watch this week. “The temerity and ignorance of those soulless SOB’s (sic) presuming to know better than the NC Charter School Advisory Board with its diversity of knowledge and experience in this area. If there is anyone who knows the good, the bad and the ugly about public school choice, it’s members of our NC CSAB.”

There’s some strong language there. In fact, you didn’t really state it. You spewed it. With some venom – venom that seems to be have been brewing for over twenty years.

A quick search on Google presented your LinkedIn account with enough publically allowed information about your background to verify that your crusade to promote charter schools seems more rooted in your resentment of “far-Lefties” having stolen twenty years of your life. It states,

“After Grand Island High, I began at Boston University(1968-1970). I got caught up w/Leftist protests, accepting every word from BU prof Howard Zinn as political gospel. I subsequently was required to leave BU. Fast-forward twenty years and with help from my kids & spouse, I picked books back up at Guilford College. With more maturity, perspective, & motivation, I found academic success second go around. Thank goodness to live in the USA where second chances abound for even former far-Lefties like myself. After being mugged by 20 years of reality, I found myself welcomed in as a political Neo-Con and finally a knowledgeable & responsible voter.”

Looking through the lens of your “background” at the quote in the NC Policy Watch report it seems that that resentment is still very much there. But when you state that the “SOB’s” presume to know better than the NC CSAB about public school choice, you actually verified that you are the one who lacks the insight of the ill effects of “choice.”

One of your charter school advocates, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, essentially helped people see the cracks in the armor of unregulated charter school growth when he received the report from DPI this past January that showed how charter schools were actually more segregated than public schools. He then demanded that the report be redone to show charter schools in a more favorable light. In fact, he was mad that the report didn’t have “a lot of positive things to say.”

Recently, Lindsay Wagner of the A.J. Fletcher Foundation wrote an expose on the charter school industry here in North Carolina that very much brought to light the inconsistencies of the “public school choice” movement that cloaks charter school growth which ultimately takes away tax payer money from allowing many public schools (that you seem to rail against) to be fully funded.

You may read that report here – http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2016/07/28/failing-charter-schools-inadequate-screening-and-oversight-causing-big-problems-for-many-nc-families/ . I would not be surprised if many members of the SBOE read that same report and found its contents disturbing, considering they are responsible with distributing tax payer money.

In an election year that has public education as one of the primary issues, I am not surprised that the State Board of Education took more precaution in justifying more charter schools which really are just “public” when asking for state money, but operate “privately” after that money is secured to avoid any transparency.

Take for example The Greensboro Academy, a charter school where you serve as the president of the Board of Directors. If people look at the reviews for the Greensboro Academy, they will find it rated on GreatSchools with an overall score of 9 out of ten. That’s impressive.

But the website for the school says, “Our school is designed to eliminate the achievement gap and provide a public school choice to your family so your child is prepared for success in high school, college, and beyond” (https://www.nhaschools.com/schools/greensboro/en/Pages/At-a-Glance.aspx). Interestingly enough, when someone hears “achievement gap”, he/she usually thinks of the academic achievement of white students as measured against minority students. Greensboro Academy is over 80% white.

Ironically, the scores for the nearby public elementary and middle schools are literally the same (8 and 9), except they are much more diverse.

Furthermore, could you insure that all schools the CSAB recommends for approval have that same ability that Greensboro Academy does? Your school was established in 1999, when charter schools were heavily scrutinized to assure success. That’s one of the reasons that there was a cap on charter schools – to make sure that tax payer money was being spent wisely. Seventeen years later, we have no cap and a highly visible movement toward privatization being billed to tax payers. Tax payer money has not been spent well when it comes to charter schools. The DPI report showed it and Mrs. Wagner’s article articulates it very well.

But what really seems to be the hardest part to digest here is your harsh language and attitude toward others who are trying to look at the situation a little more soberly.

Now, if you were trying to infer that “SOB’s” actually means something besides “Sons-of- bitches” such as “Schools of Business”,  “Sets of Books”, “Shrimps on the Barbie”, “Silly Old Bears”, or “Side Orders of Bacon”, then it might not be perceived as being so harsh.

But that’s not the case. We all know what you meant. And it really seems incongruent with the very values you claim that the Greensboro Academy tries to instill through its “Moral Focus”.

Every month, Greensboro Academy has a “virtue” that it emphasizes. Here they are as listed on your school’s website – https://www.nhaschools.com/schools/greensboro/en/Our-Program/Pages/Moral-Focus.aspx.

  • August/September: Wisdom
  • October: Respect
  • November: Gratitude
  • December: Self-control
  • January: Perseverance
  • February: Courage
  • March: Encouragement
  • April: Compassion
  • May: Integrity

I can honestly say that your comment made in response to the decision of the SBOE pretty much nullified October, November, December, maybe April, and definitely May. August is up for review.

And if I had to make a prediction of what the SBOE might be doing with the next round of applications if you do not at least acknowledge their input and power along with a public apology, then I would say that the very people in the SBOE whom you call SOB’s will make sure that the CSAB will be SOL.

 

Sincerely,
Stuart Egan
Public School Teacher

Censorship and the Fear of Free Thought – The Nomination of Todd Chasteen for SBOE

When Ray Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451, he was living in a time of the rising Cold War and the end of Nazism.

The novel is a futuristic look (in 1950) into what society might be like if reading books were banned by the government. Firemen, who were the governmental workers who burned rogue books, would use a fire that reached 451 degrees Fahrenheit to incinerate written works of imagination and free thought. It was a way to control the people. It was a way to keep their minds from being curious and imaginative. It kept them from being “free”.

Today, around 50,000 copies are still sold a year for the classic dystopian novel and it is a staple in many junior classes in North Carolina as well as middle school gifted classes. Its message is still very relevant today.

The main character in the novel Guy Montag, a conflicted fireman, befriends a man named Faber (an old English professor) who explains why great books are so important. Faber lists three reasons:

  1. Books have “quality” of information.
  2. Books provide “leisure to digest it” (information).
  3. Books give us the “right to carry out actions based on what we learn from the interaction of the first two” (information and time to digest).

Simplified in a crude and dirty manner – books promote free thought and interaction with ideas.

As an English teacher, I tend to cringe at the thought of books that have that very quality and ability to engage thought in young people being banned or challenged by people who believe that they know what is best for others without proper investigation.

That does not mean that I want to all of a sudden make Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint a staple in high schools or make all freshmen read Lolita by Nabokov. But I do want them to read works of literature that have value and insight into the human condition.

That’s why the nomination of Todd Chasteen to the North Carolina State Board of Education is disturbing and a seemingly reactionary move by Gov. McCrory to appease the very conservative coalition in power in Raleigh.

For this English teacher, this nomination spells censorship and more governmental control over what is read by students in North Carolina. His track record screams that free thought, interaction with unknown ideas, and expressions of differing viewpoints should not be allowed in high schools.

That would hurt our students.

Mr. Chasteen was vetted in a report by Lindsay Wagner when she worked as the education correspondent for NC Policy Watch. Her April 24, 2015 report entitled “Censorship controversy, thin record spark concerns over McCrory’s State Board of Ed nominee” speaks loudly when considering that he will in all probability be appointed to the empty Northwest NC vacancy (http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2015/04/24/censorship-controversy-thin-record-spark-concerns-over-mccrorys-state-board-of-ed-nominee/).

Chasteen’s efforts in banning a book called The House of the Spirits from a Watauga County classroom garnered a lot of media, especially when it was revealed that his boss at the time, Franklin Graham, was also actively trying to have it banned as well. According to Chasteen the book was simply a vehicle for promiscuity. He said,

“If the Bible contained the 59 sexual references and the graphic, descriptive detail of The House, my kids would not read the Bible, nor would I. Mr. Mckay stretched to find a few violent, non-descript stories in the Bible of 1500 pages. The House, 59 depictions in 430 pages, a pattern, pervasive vulgarity, and very descriptive. The Bible, as non-graphic, does not say that King David enjoyed “the dark, hot, juicy cavern of her _____.” This is not a mere nuance. The reading of the Bible does not produce sensual arousal.”

But the Bible does talk about David having multiple wives and when he met Bathsheba, he actually had her first husband placed in the front lines of war to ensure he would be killed. Maybe there was not anything graphic since it is biblical diction, but it doesn’t sound wholesome. Then, of course, David begat Solomon (he of 700+ wives) from Bathsheba, and Solomon was the “wisest man who ever lived.” That is unless you talk to Jim, the slave from Huckleberry Finn.

There is that wonderful exchange on the river between the truant, irreverent Huck and the runaway slave.

“Yit dey say Sollermun de wises’ man dat ever live’. I doan’ take no stock in dat. Bekase why would a wise man want to live in de mids’ er sich a blim-blammin’ all de time? No—’deed he wouldn’t. A wise man ’ud take en buil’ a biler-factry; en den he could shet DOWN de biler-factry when he want to res’.”

“Well, but he WAS the wisest man, anyway; because the widow she told me so, her own self.”

“I doan k’yer what de widder say, he WARN’T no wise man nuther. He had some er de dad-fetchedes’ ways I ever see. Does you know ’bout dat chile dat he ’uz gwyne to chop in two?”

“Yes, the widow told me all about it.”

“WELL, den! Warn’ dat de beatenes’ notion in de worl’? You jes’ take en look at it a minute. Dah’s de stump, dah—dat’s one er de women; heah’s you—dat’s de yuther one; I’s Sollermun; en dish yer dollar bill’s de chile. Bofe un you claims it. What does I do? Does I shin aroun’ mongs’ de neighbors en fine out which un you de bill DO b’long to, en han’ it over to de right one, all safe en soun’, de way dat anybody dat had any gumption would? No; I take en whack de bill in TWO, en give half un it to you, en de yuther half to de yuther woman. Dat’s de way Sollermun was gwyne to do wid de chile. Now I want to ast you: what’s de use er dat half a bill?—can’t buy noth’n wid it. En what use is a half a chile? I wouldn’ give a dern for a million un um.”

Will Todd Chasteen want to now ban Huck Finn? It goes against the Bible, which leads me to my major concern about the potential appointment of Chasteen – he is not one who is familiar with public education.

Wagner wrote in her article,

“Todd Chasteen appears to have strong connections in private, religious education.

His wife, Kim, runs a private Christian school in Boone called Grace Academy. And Chasteen is a proponent of home schooling, having served as a government instructor for High Country Christian Home Schoolers.

Chasteen’s bio for HCCHS says he “has a passion to help ground and prepare our students against an onslaught of liberal views that they may face in higher education, and to be able to convey the subject matter with academic freedom.”

Wow. That’s sounds like someone who does not need to be on the state board of education for public schools.

First, if his wife still runs that private Christian school in Boone, would it not be a conflict of interest that Grace Academy has actually received monies from Opportunity Grants for students who enroll. Below is a screen shot from the NCSEAA website of schools participating in Opportunity Grants (https://www3.ncseaa.edu/cgi-bin/SCHOOLROSTER/NPS500.pgm)? Would Chasteen actively help public schools or would he allow his puritanical views start dictating the very types of books NC student would read?

grace academy

With a bias toward biblical adherence and being anti-liberal arts, Chasteen is the very person that Bradbury warns us against. I can just imagine his challenging the very list of books used often in my junior English classes.

  • Scarlet Letter for the out-of-wedlock child of a clergyman with a married woman.
  • Huck Finn for the language and that Solomon bit.
  • The Great Gatsby because it promotes adultery and drinking and a worship of money.
  • The Crucible because of, well, witches.
  • Of Mice and Men because of the language and violent scenes.

He would also have to consider banning Shakespeare – all of it. The Bard is well-known for his use of bawdry and vulgar language.

And considering that the new budget doesn’t offer much in new resource monies, I may not be able to procure multiple titles of books that would be allowed in schools. Why won’t public schools have that money? Because Grace Academy and other religious affiliated schools that may teach the coexistence of dinosaurs and humans and that the earth is literally only a few thousand years old will be getting that money through an expanding voucher system.

The free thought and investigation of other viewpoints will not be fostered. That would be catastrophic.

Plus it’s an infringement on the First Amendment and freedom of speech. If you have never seen the movie Field of Dreams, then you should just for the PTA meeting scene where a parent is trying to have a book banned from the school based on its use of language.

The woman says,

“Mr. Harris, the so-called novels of Terence Mann endorse promiscuity , godlessness, the mongrelization of the races, and disrespect to high-ranking officers of the United States Army . And that’s why right-thinking school boards all across the country having been banning this man’s S-H-l- since 1969 . Terence Mann? You know why he stopped writing books. Because he masturbates.”

In the movie, Terrance Mann had won the Pulitzer Prize. High praise if you ask me. The House of the Spirits won The Best Novel of the Year in Chile in 1982, and Allende, the author, received the country’s Panorama Literario award. That’s high praise as well.

Annie Kinsella, wife of the protagonist Ray responds beautifully,

“Who wants to burn books? Who wants to spit on the Constitution of the United States of America? Anybody? All right. Now, who’s for the Bill of Rights? Who thinks freedom is a pretty darn good thing? Come on ! Come on ! Let’s see those hands ! Who thinks we have to stand up to the kind of censorship they had under Stalin? All right. There you go.”

Ray Bradbury would have known of Stalin. Maybe that’s what he was thinking about when he wrote F451.

Because he saw what censorship could do to a people.

Maybe Chasteen should put it on his own reading list.