Evaluating the State Superintendent – Mark Johnson’s Job Performance According to the Rubric

super

It is no secret that the powers-that-be in the General Assembly have attempted to enable the new state superintendent of public schools with enough power so that he can blindly champion their reformation causes.  This seems to be in line with the market–driven, business-plan approach to public education that the state government in NC adopted under McCrory’s administration, and it continues suffocating a public school system that was once considered progressive and strong.

When Mark Johnson entered office as State Superintendent, he called for a sense of “urgency” and announced a “listening tour” to gather new ideas to present this summer for implementation to repair an “outdated” education model.

However, he seems to have forgotten that he is supposed to be the educational and instructional leader for the state, even if his actual background and experience in public education is minimal.

That lack of educational background is showing itself – very clearly. Five months into the stagnating tenure of Mark Johnson as state superintendent, most high school teachers are finishing another evaluation process in which they are subjected to a series of measurements on standards defined by rubrics. If we are to take to heart this idea of urgency and accountability, then should not the very person who is the instructional leader of the state, the “educational leader” as he proclaims, not be subjected to the same evaluation system as the very teachers he says that he is working on behalf of?

Yes, he should.

In North Carolina, system superintendents are evaluated by a process that highlights seven different standards. According to the North Carolina Superintendent Evaluation Process Manual (2007) they are rated as follows:

  • Not Demonstrated:
  • Developing:
  • Proficient:
  • Accomplished:
  • Distinguished:

If system superintendents are evaluated by such criteria and they directly report to the state superintendent, should it not be transferrable to the state superintendent in the same manner, but instead of looking at the local school system, look at the state school system? It would mean changing only a few words, but the spirit and meaning would be the same.

Except, there would be one more rating for the state superintendent because more is at stake. We would still have Not Demonstrated, Developing, Proficient, Accomplished, and Distinguished, but there would also be:

  • UnreMARKable

Standard 1: Strategic Leadership

Summary:  Superintendents create conditions that result in strategically re-imaging the state’s vision, mission, and goals to ensure that every student graduates from high school, globally competitive for work and postsecondary education and prepared for life in the 21st Century.  They create a climate of inquiry that challenges the community to continually repurpose itself by building on the state’s core values and beliefs about the preferred future and then developing a pathway to reach it.

The part where it says “climate of inquiry” is especially curious given that Johnson seems to shun answering questions at all or giving statements. When the state Senate released its budget proposal a couple of weeks ago, Johnson was asked for a statement considering that his department (DPI) was targeted for a 25% cut. His staff told news outlets that he would be unavailable for interviews all that week.

Consistently unavailable for inquiry does not lend itself to leading. Not many communities outside of the GOP chambers of the North Carolina Genera Assembly seem to have had any audience with him. That’s not creating community; that’s alienating people.

Possible artifacts include:

·         District strategic plan

·         School improvement plans are implemented, assessed, and modified

·         Effectively functioning, elected school improvement teams

·         Superintendent’s performance plan aligned with state and local strategic priorities and objectives

·         Staff can articulate the district’s direction and focus

·         Student performance data

·         Student achievement and testing data

 

Actual artifacts include:

·         A few quotes in news outlets.

·         A video for teachers during Teacher Appreciation Week.

·         News that there were visits to some place on the listening tour, but no concrete details of what was discussed.

Rating: UnreMARKable

 

Standard 2: Instructional Leadership

Summary:  Superintendents set high standards for the professional practice of 21st century instruction and assessment that result in an accountable environment.  They create professional learning communities resulting in highly engaging instruction and improved student learning.  They set specific achievement targets for schools and students and then ensure the consistent use of research-based instructional strategies in all classrooms to reach the targets.

Professional Learning Communities (PLC’s) are sometimes called Professional Learning Teams (PLT’s). The word “team” here is curious because as a state superintendent, Johnson is part of the State Board of Education.

He’s suing them. They are suing him. Now that’s collaboration!

There is still no word on “specific achievement goals” – must still be on that listening tour.

Possible artifacts include:

·         District strategic plan

·         School improvement plans

·         Professional development plans based on data (e.g., student  R performance, results of the NC Teacher Working Conditions Survey)

·         Student performance goals

·         Student performance data

·         Use of formative assessment to impact instruction

·         District instructional evaluation program

Actual artifacts include:

·         A few quotes in news outlets.

·         Talk of talk that there might be a plan

·         Otherwise, the sound of crickets.

 

Rating: UnreMARKable

 

Standard 3: Cultural Leadership

Superintendents understand and act on the important role a system’s culture has in the exemplary performance of all schools.  They understand the people in the district and community, how they came to their current state, and how to connect with their traditions in order to move them forward to support the district’s efforts to achieve individual and collective goals.  While supporting and valuing the history, traditions, and norms of the district and community, a superintendent must be able to “reculture” the district, if needed, to align with the district’s goals of improving student and adult learning and to infuse the work of the adults and students with passion, meaning and purpose.

By definition, the State Superintendent of Public Schools is the leader of public instruction. On http://www.dpi.state.nc.us/statesuperintendent/, Mark Johnson is described as,

North Carolina State Superintendent Mark Johnson was elected to the post in 2016. His career in education began at West Charlotte High School where he taught through Teach for America before attending law school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Superintendent Johnson served as a member of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools Board of Education and was legal counsel at Inmar, an international technology company based in Winston-Salem. Having served as a teacher, an education leader, and as a father of a young daughter soon to start school, improving education in North Carolina is a personal mission for Johnson.”

What that description does not tell you is that he prepared to be a teacher for five weeks through TFA, spent only two academic school years in the classroom, and never completed one full term as a local school board member. In fact, much of that time as a school board member, he was campaigning to become state superintendent. That’s not a glowing resume for a “connection with traditions” in public education.

And it’s hard to “reculture” something if you are not present and available.

Possible artifacts include:

·         Climate survey data

·         NC Teacher Working Conditions Survey results

·         Teacher retention data

·         Student performance data

·         Awards structures developed by the state and schools

·         Community support of the state

Actual artifacts include:

·         The sound of crickets, but very much looking forward to the results of working condition surveys.

 

Rating: UnreMARKable

 

Standard 4: Human Resource Leadership

Superintendents ensure that the district is a professional learning community with processes and systems in place that result in the recruitment, induction, support, evaluation, development and retention of a high-performing, diverse staff.  Superintendents use distributed leadership to support learning and teaching, plan professional development, and engage in district leadership succession planning.

Human Resource Leadership? Simply look at May 30th’s report by Alex Granados from EdNC.org entitled “House budget highlights tensions between education leaders” (https://www.ednc.org/2017/05/30/house-budget-highlights-tensions-education-leaders/).

Here’s the first part of that:

“While the public waits for the House to unveil a full budget, including its proposal on teacher pay, the portions of the House plan released last week highlight a rift between education leaders in the state. 

A provision of the proposed budget would give State Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson funding to hire 10 positions that would report directly to him and would be exempt from the State Human Resources Act.

When asked about it during the State Board’s Every Student Succeeds Act work session today, Johnson said the reason why he needs those employees in his office is clear. 

“I’d refer you to the ongoing court case between me and the State Board,” he said. 

Johnson is party to a lawsuit over legislation passed during a special session in December that transferred some of the State Board’s power to the superintendent. That suit will be heard in late June. One of the powers Johnson gains under that legislation, should the legislature’s move stand, pertains to who he can hire and fire. Currently, he is able to give input on some hires but the State Board has the final say.

“I did make that very public affidavit because that kind of sets forth what’s been going on in this department,” he said.

In that affidavit, which is part of the lawsuit, Johnson lists his grievances about the State Board’s hiring process and is critical of the process the board uses to hire for new positions. He lists specific instances where the Board refused to vote on a candidate he recommended, choosing instead to create committees to review potential hires. In the case of the position of chief financial officer, Johnson makes clear in the affidavit that the person the Board ultimately hired is not who he would have chosen.”

That’s not leadership.

That’s whining.

Possible artifacts include:

·         Student performance data

·         State strategic plan

·         NC Teacher Working Conditions Survey results

·         Number of teachers with National Board Certification and graduate advanced level licensure

·         Teacher; school executive; and staff diversity, recruitment, and retention data

·         Record of professional development provided staff and an assessment of the impact of professional development on student learning

·         Leadership development plan

·         Copies of professional growth plans for school executives

·         State plan or policy defining the role of teachers in making or participating in making resource allocation decisions, such as the use of time, budgets, and other resources, to meet the individual needs of each student

·         State leadership succession plan

Actual artifacts include:

·         Still, very much looking forward to the results of working condition surveys.

·         Might want to see what happened to the graduate degree pay

·         Might want to see retention rates, especially of teachers with experience

·         What leadership development plan?

·         In fact, what is the plan?

 

Rating: UnreMARKable

 

Standard 5: Managerial Leadership

Summary:  Superintendents ensure that the district has processes and systems in place for budgeting, staffing, problem solving, communicating expectations, and scheduling that organize the work of the district and give priority to student learning and safety.  The superintendent must solicit resources (both operating and capital), monitor their use, and assure the inclusion of all stakeholders in decisions about resources so as to meet the 21st century needs of the district.

Read explanation for Standard 4. One can’t display managerial leadership if one has to have the General Assembly craft legislation so that he can say he is a leader.

Rating: UnreMARKable

 

Standard 6: External Development Leadership

Summary:  A superintendent, in concert with the local board of education, designs structures and processes that result in broad community engagement with, support for, and ownership of the district vision. Acknowledging that strong schools build strong communities, the superintendent proactively creates, with school and district staff, opportunities for parents, community members, government leaders, and business representatives to participate with their investments of resources, assistance, and good will. 

Again, read explanation for Standard 4.

Rating: UnreMARKable

 

Standard 7: Micropolitical Leadership

Summary: The superintendent promotes the success of learning and teaching by understanding, responding to, and influencing the larger political, social, economic, legal, ethical, and cultural context. From this knowledge, the superintendent works with the board of education to define mutual expectations, policies, and goals to ensure the academic success of all students.  

Actually, this one is tricky because it says “influencing the larger political, social, etc.”

The problem is that Johnson is totally being INFLUENCED by the larger “political, social, legal, ethical, and cultural context.”

Possible artifacts include:

·         Parent, community, and staff survey data 

·         Teacher, school executive, and staff retention data

·         Ability to confront conflict and build consensus

·         Shared decision making

·         Outreach efforts

·         School board policies

·         Minutes and reports

·         Superintendent’s performance goal

Actual artifacts include:

·         Still, still, still very much looking forward to the results of surveys.

·         House Bill 17

·         Affidavit

·         Senate budget allots $300,000 to pay legal fees to sue state school board

·         Senate budget allows for 5 positions to be funded for Johnson

·         House budget allows for 10 positions to be funded for Johnson

 

Rating: UnreMARKable

So we have as a result:

Standard Rating
UnreMARKable Not Dem. Developing Proficient Accomplished Distinguished
1 X          
2 X          
3 X          
4 X          
5 X          
6 X          
7 X          
OVERALL X          

 

This is not what we deserve in North Carolina.

Teacher Appreciation Week – Respect Versus Rewards

It is National Teacher Appreciation Week and with a new budget about to be presented by the North Carolina General Assembly’s Senate chamber, I thought of this particular post I wrote exactly one year ago.

It still seems so appropriate now.

TAW 2017 Carousel Banner2_665x348

From May of 2016:

In a recent report from the Lumberton NC paper The Robesonian (“McCrory: Former teacher inspired pat proposal”), Sarah Willets quoted Gov. McCrory as being inspired by a former teacher to suggest a pay hike for teachers in this election year. He said:

“Ruth Revels was one of those teachers who had a lasting impact and influence on me. I will always remember her passion and strong belief in each one of her students. In honor of Mrs. Revels who recently passed away, I announced a plan to reward teachers for their hard work and raise average pay to over $50,000 plus benefits.”

When someone remembers a teacher’s impact on his life, that teacher must have been special. In fact, there are many Mrs. Revels in this state and many more are still embarking on the teaching profession.

But I am stuck on one word – “reward”.

A reward is something that is given in recognition of someone’s service, effort, and/or achievement. One could get a reward for doing well on a project or completing a task. Some could look at a bonus check as a reward for accomplishing a goal.

However, this teacher wants more than a reward from my governor and his General Assembly. This teacher wants respect for all of our public school teachers

To have respect is to have a deep feeling of admiration for someone because of his abilities, qualities, and value. It is understanding that someone is important and should be taken seriously.

I was very glad to see that NCAE called on NC lawmakers to “Restore Respect” during Teacher Appreciation Week because it brought to mind that there are many stark differences between rewards and respect.

  • A reward sounds like something that can be used as a political ploy. Respect needs no political prompt.
  • A reward could be a one-time gift. Respect is continuous and grows.
  • A reward is a reaction to something. Respect guides your actions.
  • A reward is giving teachers a small bonus that gets taxed by the state and has no effect on retirement. Respect would be to bring salaries for teachers at least to the national average.
  • A reward would be to give a school some sort of distinction because it met a measurement achievement. Respect would be honoring teachers because of actual student growth in the face of factors out of the schools’ control.
  • A reward would be providing more textbooks. Respect would be to keep growing per-pupil expenditures to ensure that all students got the resources they need.
  • A reward would be giving a one-time pay hike to teachers. Respect would be to make sure they kept getting raises throughout their careers on a fair salary schedule and restoring longevity pay.
  • A reward may be speaking highly of principals. Respect would be not ever allowing our average principal salary to rank next to last in the nation.
  • A reward may be to alter the teacher evaluation system. Respect would be to restore due-process rights for all teachers.
  • A reward may be to give more professional development for teachers. Respect would be restoring pay bumps for graduate degrees.

We have seen what a lack of respect for teachers has done to our state in a short amount of time. Where we once were considered a flagship state system, we are now in a state of regression. So while I will not decline a “reward” of a pay raise, I will tell my lawmakers that affording more respect to teachers, administrators, and teacher assistants could go a long in helping stop the attrition of teaching talent in North Carolina.

Why? Because if you respect something you will show it through your actions, not just your campaign speeches and vague promises.

And respect can work both ways. For those lawmakers who view public education as a priority and view teachers with respect, I will not only reward them with my vote, I would show my respect by supporting them throughout their terms.

But most importantly, don’t reward me for teaching. Respect me for being a teacher.

Open Letter to Phil Kirk, Chairman Emeritus for the NC State Board of Education

Dear Mr. Kirk,

I read with great interest your op-Ed for EdNC.org posted on September7, 2016 entitled “Outlandish myths about NC Republicans and education” (https://www.ednc.org/2016/09/07/outlandish-myths-nc-republicans-education/ )  It originally appeared in The News and Observer on September 6th .

Your initial paragraph in which you recount your unparalleled service and experience with education both in public schools and private universities more than qualifies you to speak about our current politically charged educational climate.  However, I also believe that it binds you to present your information in the entire context in which it resides.

As I read through your list of myths and their subsequent debunking, I could not help but think that you are presenting these myths with a lamp that does not fully shed light on the entire reality of the situation. It’s as if you defined the context of the claims and myths that many make in order to validate your explanations and allow them to fit within a politically motivated narrative that gives the current administration and legislature more credit than they deserve.

What you claim in the framework you present it in is totally correct. I am saying that you have said nothing that is incorrect within the context you present your points in. But there are so many other variables that affect the climate of public education that if investigated really show that you are doing more “cherry-picking” with numbers rather than presenting a complete outlook.

And with your background and understanding of public education, that’s simply outlandish.

  1. “Myth: Teachers are leaving North Carolina in record numbers. The truth is that last year, 6.8 percent left teaching to pursue a different career and only 1.1 percent left to teach in a different state. Some undoubtedly left because their spouses found jobs in other professions. In fact, between 2010 and 2014, 8,500 out-of-state teachers moved to North Carolina to teach while only 2,200 teachers left.”

Those numbers are correct. But it is how you are phrasing the first sentence that builds a different construct than what many have been worried about which is teacher turnover. The numbers you present are only what people are allowing you to know. You are assuming that all teachers who leave the profession “self-report”.

I would invite you to look at the report to the North Carolina General Assembly about the state of the Teaching Profession in North Carolina. It is more comprehensive and shows many more variables than you present (http://www.ncpublicschools.org/docs/educatoreffectiveness/surveys/leaving/2014-15turnoverreport.pdf ).

The report also includes information on:

  • “Teachers who left the LEA but remained in education (31%) (Includes individuals resigning to teach in another NC LEA or charter school, individuals resigning to teach in a non-public school in NC, and individuals who moved to non-teaching positions in education)
  • Teachers who left the LEA for personal reasons (40%) (Includes individuals retiring with reduced benefits, individuals resigning to teach in another state, individuals dissatisfied with teaching, individuals who resigned for health reasons, individuals who resigned due to family responsibilities and/or childcare, death, and individuals who resigned due to family relocation, individuals seeking a career change)
  • Teachers who were terminated by the LEA (7%) (Includes individuals who were non-renewed, dismissed, or resigned in lieu of dismissal)
  • Teachers who left the LEA for reasons beyond the LEA’s control (15%) (Includes individuals who retired with full benefits, deceased, movement required by Military Orders, end of TFA or VIF term)
  • Teachers who left the LEA for other reasons not listed above (7%) (Includes teachers resigning or leaving teaching for reasons not listed or those who resigned for unknown and other reasons) (p.10) .”

The same report also shows that teacher turnover has actually risen during the current administration’s tenure (p.8).

kirk1

You state,

  1. “Myth: Republicans are cutting textbook funding. Since Gov. Pat McCrory was elected, spending on textbooks has tripled from $23 million to $72 million per year. In fact, it was the Democrats who cut textbook funding from $111 million to $2.5 million seven years ago. This GOP increase is in addition to $143 million in state and federal funds to transition classrooms to digital and wi-fi connectivity. In less than two years, N.C. will be one of a few states where all classrooms are connected.”

First, the current administration is not the first to try and get all classrooms in all schools plugged in digitally. Gov. Perdue was and still is very proactive in advocating for technological advances to be married to schooling. But let’s turn to textbooks. Below is a list of textbook expenditures over the last nine budgets that was presented by DPI. These numbers can be found on http://www.ncpublicschools.org/fbs/resources/data/ .

  • 07-08 – $99,490,211
  • 08-09 – $100,652,409
  • 09-10 – $111,162,790
  • 10-11 – $2,500,000
  • 11-12 – $23,431,227
  • 12-13 – $22,816,039
  • 13-14 – $23,169,585
  • 14-15 – $24,265,721
  • 15-16 – $52,384,390

I find it interesting that you concentrate on the 10-11 figures. And two words may be able to explain this expenditure – Great Recession. Revenues simply dried up. The economy was in shambles. Blaming the meager amount of money spent on textbooks in this year would be like blaming the entire recession on NC democrats.

But what is more telling is in that particular year more conservative Republicans were coming into the state legislature who looked to cut taxes and what you had is an incredibly injured revenue pipeline to fund public education in a state that literally had doubled in population in the previous 30 years. In fact, in Gov. Perdue’s last two years, she literally was facing a General Assembly that was veto-proof in the Senate, and nearly veto-proof (four shy) in the House (http://www.wral.com/news/state/nccapitol/blogpost/11273413/ ).

Look at what was spent for textbooks in the three previous “democrat” years. Now look at the years that republicans have been in control. Furthermore, this is in real dollars which are not adjusted for inflation through the consumer price index.

Again, you are viewing what happened with selective vision. In this case, rather egregiously.

  1. “Myth: Spending on K-12 spending has been cut. Since Republicans assumed power, spending on K-12 has increased by 18 percent, including a $700 million increase in this year alone. North Carolina is unique in the level of state funding it provides for K-12 public schools with 64 percent of funding coming from the state compared with the national average of only 46 percent. Education receives the largest share of the state budget, and K-12 receives by far the largest chunk of those dollars. Only in government can increases be called reductions!”

Sen. Jim Davis made the same claims in a Macon County Board of Commissioners meeting this past summer. A video of that presentation is available here – http://livestream.com/accounts/16465545/events/6107359/videos/132381404.

And what he claimed and what you claimed are really padded points made by many in the current administration. I will rebut to you with what I wrote the senator.

“Of course there is more money spent on education now than in the past. North Carolina is one of the fastest growing states in the country. More people mean more students to educate. But it is interesting that the per-pupil expenditure under this present leadership is lower than it was before the Great Recession.

Here’s an analogy. Say in 2008, a school system in your district had 1000 students in its school system and spent 10 Great Recession. million dollars in its budget to educate them. That’s approximately 10,000 per pupil expenditure. Now in 2016, that same district has 1500 students and the school system is spending 11.5 million to educate them. According to your claims, that district is spending more total dollars now than in 2008 on education, but the per-pupil expenditure has gone down significantly by about 2300 dollars per student or 23 percent.

Your argument doesn’t hold much credibility when you claim to be spending more overall, yet the average per-pupil expenditure has gone down precipitously.”

Add in inflation and those numbers become more startling.

  1. “Myth: Teacher salaries are being increased only because this is an election year. Two years ago, North Carolina raised teacher’s salaries more than any other state in the nation. Teacher salaries were increased by 14 percent for beginning teachers. Last year teachers with six through 10 years experience received raises between six and 17 percent. This year teachers received pay increases averaging 4.7 percent, and those experienced teachers between eight and 19 years on the pay scale received raises of 10 to 13 percent!”

Are you sure about that? My paycheck doesn’t really reflect all that you say. Why? Because you use the word “average.”  Saying that North Carolina raised teacher salaries more than any other state in the nation in 2014 is misleading. One can raise the salary of first year teachers by a few thousand dollars and it would give them an average raise of maybe 10-15%. One would then only have to give veteran teachers a very small raise funded by longevity pay (which all veteran teachers no longer get) and the OVERALL average raise still looks good, and not much money has to be invested.

I invite you to read James Hogan’s recent posting about teacher pay on his blog entitled “No, NC Republicans Have Not Fixed Teacher Pay” (http://www.forum.jamesdhogan.com/2016/09/no-nc-republicans-havent-fixed-teacher.html ). It’s devastatingly accurate and it doesn’t even talk about the removal of longevity pay.

  1. “Myth: Principals have been left behind as teacher pay has been steadily increased under the Republicans. That has been true for the past eight years when they received a total of 1.2 percent increased pay. This year the Republicans granted two percent raises with a study approved for administrator compensation. Small, yes, but a recognition of the problem and a step in the right direction.”

We are 50 out 51 in principal pay. You can’t really take credit for identifying a gaping wound now when everybody else has been seeing it for years.

  1. “Myth: North Carolina’s pay for teachers compared with other states is slipping. As McCrory took office, pay had slipped to 47th. We will move to at least 41 this year and to a projected 34th next year. Total compensation, including fringe benefits, now averages $66,000 for 10 months’ employment. Is that enough for the tough job teachers face every day? Not for the effective teachers, but the trend has certainly been reversed and is headed toward our paying our teachers the most in the Southeast.”

The words “projected” and “reality” are very different.  You said earlier in your op-Ed that we had the largest increase in teacher pay in 2014 and look what it got us. We are still near the bottom. Either the numbers are skewed somewhat or your claim lacks adequate explanation.

You are also assuming that we will rise in rankings without considering that other states will be increasing their own salaries and benefits packages.

Furthermore, you will need to convince me that we only do ten months of work. The budget now requires us to seek more certification renewal on our own time and schools do not prepare themselves over the summer. No school is ever really closed. Besides, there are a lot of coaches out there who work more in the summers than people really ever know.

  1. “Myth: Class size has been increased. The truth is that kindergarten is capped at 18 students, first grade at 16, and second and third grades at no more than 17.”

What about 4th grade?  5th?  6th?  7th?  8th?  9th?  10th?  11th?  12th?

Let me refer to the Allotment Policy Handbook FY 2013-14 on guidelines for maximum class size for all classes. There is a table from p.26 that gives some guide lines to students per classroom.

kirk2

However, local authorities can extend class sizes if there is a need in their eyes. If you look on the very next page of the same handbook there is the following table:

kirk3

That bill referred to, HB112, allowed the state to remove class size requirements while still allowing monies from the state to be allocated based on the previous table’s numbers. And that’s huge! Some classes on my campus push upwards to 40 students.

Another detail to emphasize is the change that some districts have taken to move away from the 6/7 period day to block scheduling. Take my own district for example, the Winston-Salem / Forsyth County Schools. When I started ten years ago, I taught five classes with a cap of 30 students. With the block system in place, I now teach six classes in a school year with no cap. The math is simple: more students per teacher.

You end your op-Ed with a semi-rhetorical question that begs even more explanation – “Does all that and more justify the political rhetoric that Republicans don’t care or fund education?”

Well, yes. Because there are more truthful “myths” that I need you to address in the full light of reality such as how the following are moves to help our schools and its teachers.

  • Elimination of due process rights for new teachers
  • Graduate Degree Pay Bumps Removed for new teachers
  • Revolving Door of Standardized Tests
  • Less Money Spent per Pupil now than before 2008
  • Remove Caps on Class Sizes
  • Incorporated the Jeb Bush School Grading System that really just shows the effects of poverty
  • Cutting Teacher Assistants
  • Expanding Opportunity Grants
  • Uncontrolled Charter School Growth
  • Virtual Schools Run By For-Profit Companies
  • Achievement School Districts
  • Reduction of Teacher Candidates in Colleges
  • Elimination of Teaching Fellows Program

I look forward to hearing your thoughts, especially if you consider my claims in this letter outlandish.

Stuart Egan,
Public School Teacher

The Contradiction of Educational Reform and the Paradox of Great Teachers

Contradiction versus paradox. They are not that different, but in actuality they are.

Merriam Webster defines a “contradiction” as,

  • : the act of saying something that is opposite or very different in meaning to something else
  • : a difference or disagreement between two things which means that both cannot be true

Here are some examples:

  • “Do what I say, not as I do.”
  • “Sure the food is fresh. We microwave it right here.”
  • “After I work out at the YMCA, I go to Krispy Kreme and reward myself with a dozen donuts.”
  • Corporate reform initiatives work well in public education.

Merriam Webster defines a “paradox” as,

  • : something (such as a situation) that is made up of two opposite things and that seems impossible but is actually true or possible
  • : someone who does two things that seem to be opposite to each other or who has qualities that are opposite
  • : a statement that seems to say two opposite things but that may be true

Here are some examples:

  • “You can’t keep it unless you give it away.”
  • “You must surrender to win.”
  • “You learn to fail before you learn to succeed.”
  • Teachers still raising student achievement in the face of debilitating reform measures.

I make mention of public education because there may be no other profession/field/public service that shows the contradiction versus paradox relationship so well.

Since the inception of the No Child Left Behind initiative, American public education has been a hotbed for reform after reform to link student achievement and teacher/school effectiveness to standardized tests. That movement was even further pushed with Race to the Top. And some states like North Carolina have taken so many steps to reform education in such a small time that the shoes of change have no souls/soles left while walking a path with no map.

Contradiction #1You can measure standardized students with standardized tests. Student achievement and student growth are not the same thing. One is a measurable with controlled variables and treats students as a number or a statistic. Student growth is taking the individual student and assessing authentically where he/she began and how far he/she grew to a goal.

If one looks at how schools are graded in North Carolina, then he will see that “test scores” are taken into account much more in assigning school letter grades than student growth. If you look at the grades for schools in NC this past year, you will not only see a lot of high-poverty schools showing up in the “D” an “F” range, but if you look really closely, you will see that these schools do a lot to help students grow.

Contradiction #2There is a one-size fits all curriculum and pedagogical approach for all schools. Not so. Different student populations have different obstacles that may affect student growth like poverty, economic development of the area, access to educational opportunities outside of school, etc. Factors that affect the lives of students outside of class can have everything to do with how they perform in class.

Contradiction #3Giving schools a certain amount of money is the same thing as fully funding them. The state of North Carolina makes many claims that it is spending more money overall on public schools than ever before. However, the state of North Carolina is spending less money per pupil than before the Great Recession. The contradiction here is that just because there is “more” money does not mean that schools are fully funded. Population growth alone can expose that contradiction.

Contradiction #4Allowing for-profit entities to run charter schools, Achievement School Districts, and virtual high schools means you are progressive. It really means you are re-forming education so that someone can make a profit from tax payer money.

Contradiction #5Vouchers work well for students. Ask Milwaukee. Ask any other major system that implemented them if vouchers really worked. The only true statement that can be said about the use of vouchers is that it takes money from the very public schools that need the money in the first place to hire the people and get the resources to educate each student effectively.

Contradiction #6Class sizes do not matter to student performance. North Carolina literally removed class size caps. Any public school teacher could vouch that class size means so much when it comes to student/teacher interaction.

Contradiction #7Teachers with tenure are the ones who are burdening the system. Actually, teachers with due process rights cannot just be dismissed with the swish of a wand. Their records prove their effectiveness or they would not have gotten continuing licenses. Teachers with due-process rights actually work to advocate for schools and students without fear of sudden reprisal.

And there are many more contradictions that could be listed.

Now here’s the lone paradox, and to paraphrase a quote from Andreas Schliecher* – Despite the many, politically-motivated reform efforts by Raleigh and the characterizations by many that public school teachers have an easy job with short hours and months off in the summer, the fact is that our dedicated and successful teachers work long hours all year long to educate students and educate themselves without many needed resources and support on the legislative level.

I’ll take that paradox over all of the contradictions any day.

 

 

 

 

The original quote is, “Despite the characterization of some that teaching is an easy job, with short hours and summers off, the fact is that successful, dedicated teachers in the U.S. work long hours for little pay and, in many cases, insufficient support from their leadership.”

The Compare and Contrast Paper – EdWeek.org’s Interesting Article

 

This past week Education Week released an online compare and contrast the candidates on all things education. It is entitled “Compare the Candidates: Where Do Clinton and Trump Stand on Education?” You may find it here – http://www.edweek.org/ew/section/multimedia/president-candidates-trump-clinton-education.html.

When my wife shared this particular link with me, I imagined that I had already known where each candidate stood on issues such as school choice and common core, but this investigation went further including issues such as bullying, college access school construction, spending, and teacher quality.

When you click on any of the “topics” you will see a bullet list of points made by each candidate at the bottom of the screen.

edweek1

The compare / contrast bullet points are very helpful, but the quotes that serve as a prelude for each candidate’s position offer a very clear perspective in the major difference between Clinton and Trump when it pertains to public schools.

edweek2

And that difference is fostering an environment of collaboration versus one of competition.

The following table is a list of the quotes that were drawn from the EdWeek.org article for particularly hot-button items concerning pubic education in North Carolina. I have highlighted (rather bolded) key buzzwords and phrases that appear in those quotes. When those buzzwords are put together in groups according to the candidates, something very stark appears – the difference between collaboration and competition.

Issue Clinton’s Words Trump’s Words
Academic Standards “When I think about the really unfortunate argument that’s been going on around common core, it’s very painful, because the common core started off as a bipartisan effort—it was actually nonpartisan. It wasn’t politicized, it was to try to come up with a core of learning that we might expect students to achieve across our country.”

—Community college speech as reported by The Washington Post, April 2015

 

“So, common core is a total disaster. We can’t let it continue.”

—Facebook video

 

Bullying “Bullying has always been around, but it seems to have gotten somehow easier and more widespread because of social media and the Internet. … I think we all need to be aware of the pain and the anguish that bullying can cause.” —Iowa town hall even No specific quote from

Trump. However, The Southern Poverty Law Center, an advocacy group, recently cited an unscientific survey of teachers it said shows that Trump’s campaign rhetoric is linked to more students feeling unsafe or singled out by their peers.

 

Early-Childood Education “It’s hard enough to pay for any preschool or child care at all, let alone the quality programs that help kids develop and flourish. Funding for these opportunities has not kept up with changing times and rising demand.”

—Campaign appearance in New Hampshire

 

No specific quote from Trump. Hasn’t laid out any thoughts about early education as a Republican presidential candidate
School Choice “I have for many years now, about 30 years, supported the idea of charter schools, but not as a substitute for the public schools, but as a supplement for the public schools.”

—Town hall meeting, South Carolina

 

“Education reformers call this school choice, charter schools, vouchers, even opportunity scholarships. I call it competition—the American way.”

—The America We Deserve

 

School Spending No specific quote from Clinton. However, Has said sufficient education funding is necessary to implement the Every Student Succeeds Act. Has called for new investments in computer science education, early-childhood education, college access, and more.

Wants to double funding for the Education Innovation and Research grants, the successor to the $120 million Investing in Innovation program.

 

“We’re number one in terms of cost per pupil by a factor of, worldwide, by a factor of many. Number two is so far behind, forget it.”

—CNN town hall

 

Teacher Quality “I want all educators, at every stage of your careers, to know that they’ll be able to keep learning, improving, innovating. And that goes for administrators, too.”

—Speech to National Education Association

 

“Our public schools have grown up in a competition-free zone surrounded by a very high union wall.”

—The America We Deserve

 

Testing Tests should go back to their original purpose, giving useful information to teachers and parents. … But when you’re forced to teach to a test, our children miss out on some of the most valuable lessons.”

—Speech to National Education Association

 

No quote.

 

With Clinton’s quotes you see words and phrases like “”bipartisanship”, “aware of the pain and anguish” of bullying, “opportunities”, “all”, charter schools that should not “as a substitute for the public schools”, and that “tests should go back to their original purpose.”

With Trump, words and phrases include “disaster”, “competition”, “wall”, and “forget it.”

I have been very consistent in my views concerning collaboration and competition in the public service arena. And I will state it again as I have before with Rep. Skip Stam here in NC,

 “Effective public schools are collaborative communities, not buildings full of contractors who are determined to outperform others for the sake of money. And when teachers are forced to focus on the results of test scores, teaching ceases from being a dynamic relationship between student and teacher, but becomes a transaction driven by a carrot on an extended stick. Furthermore, the GOP-led NCGA still does not seem to acknowledge that student growth is different than student test scores. When some of our colleagues deal with students who experience more poverty, health issues, and other factors, then how can you say that those teachers do not “grow” those students when an arbitrary test score is all that is used to measure students?”

If you read the quotes for all of the topics explored in the EdWeek.org article, you might see one candidate actually trying to listen to teachers.

The other one is not.

How Hillary Clinton Just Changed The Dialogue on Public Education With Sen. Tim Kaine’s Selection As VEEP

The announcement that Hillary Clinton today selected Sen. Tim Kaine as her running mate brought public education into the forefront of the presidential election even more.

Donald Trump’s recent selection of Gov. Mike Pence solidified his stance that “choice” is the solution for what ails public education. Gov. Pence has been very much in favor of the “reform” movement in public education. His championing of charter schools and vouchers makes North Carolina look like a novice with its own unregulated charter industry and Opportunity Grants.

It is no secret that I am not in favor of unregulated charter growth and use of vouchers to fund tuition costs at religious private schools.

Take a look at a report done by NPR (yes, I am an avid NPR listener) entitled “What Did Mike Pence Do For Indiana Schools As Governor? Here’s a Look” (http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2016/07/20/486654015/what-did-pence-do-for-schools-as-governor-heres-a-look).

Breaking down his actions on Common Core, school choice, pre-k, and statewide testing, the article by NPR’s Eric Weddle breaks down Pence’s resume on public education.

Add that history to what Donald Trump Jr. so uneloquently said in his RNC address about public schools. This excerpt came from Valerie Strauss’s Washington Post education blog, “The Answer Sheet” in a post entitled “Donald Trump Jr. trashes U.S. public schools (though he didn’t attend one).” It can be found here – https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2016/07/20/donald-trump-jr-trashes-u-s-public-schools-though-he-didnt-attend-one/.

Trump, Jr. said,

“The other party gave us public schools that far too often fail our students, especially those who have no options. Growing up, my siblings and I we were truly fortunate to have choices and options that others don’t have. We want all Americans to have those same opportunities.

Our schools used to be an elevator to the middle class. Now they’re stalled on the ground floor. They’re like Soviet-era department stores that are run for the benefit of the clerks and not the customers, for the teachers and the administrators and not the students. You know why other countries do better on K through 12? They let parents choose where to send their own children to school.

That’s called competition. It’s called the free market. And it’s what the other party fears.

They fear it because they’re more concerned about protecting the jobs of tenured teachers than serving the students in desperate need of a good education.

They want to run everything top-down from Washington. They tell us they’re the experts and they know what’s best.”

If you read the entire post, Strauss actually debunks those claims made by Trump, Jr. and even brings in a quote from Trump, Sr. himself that shows how uneducated he really is about public education. She states,

“What does Donald Trump, the candidate, think? Education wasn’t high on the list of discussion topics during the primary season, but he has long been a supporter of school choice and a critic of traditional public schools. In his 2000 book, “The America We Deserve,” he wrote:

“We’re doing worse than treading water; we’re going under.” According to school-testing experts’ rule of thumb, the average child’s achievement score declinesabout 1 percent for each year they’re in school. That gives the expression ‘dumbing down’ a whole new meaning. Schools may be hazardous to your child’s intellectual health.”

Wow! Like son, like father.

Then here comes Tim Kaine, former governor of a swing state and current senator from the Commonwealth of Virginia. My venerable friend from my native Georgia, Bertis Downs, sent me a link to an op-ed written by Sen. Kaine. Maybe Bertis remembered I was a parent of public schools kids. Maybe he remembered I am the parent of a special needs child with an IEP thicker than some novels I teach, but made in cooperation with caring teachers and administrators at my child’s public school. Maybe he sent it to me to solidify that there are many who believe in our public schools to a degree that I can respect. I know he sent it to me because we share a passion for advocating for public schools in all states.

And this is what Bertis sent me – “Tim Kaine: Lessons from 40 years as a Richmond Public Schools parent”. Here is a link  – http://www.richmond.com/opinion/their-opinion/article_704c7708-041b-545b-921d-42fcb36e96cc.html.

And here is the content of what The Richmond Times – Dispatch used.

“Anne and I are now empty-nesters. Combined, our three kids spent 40 school years in the Richmond Public Schools. While we both interact with the school system in our professional lives, we’ve learned even more from back-to-school nights, parent-teacher conferences, attending school events and pulling crumpled notes to parents out of our kids’ backpacks. The lessons learned as parents have made me think about what works and what doesn’t work in Pre-K-12 education. Here are seven changes I’d like to see:

It’s about the individual!

Most policy debate these days seems to be about charter schools or high-stakes testing. But I’m convinced that the most important reform has been under our noses since 1975, when legislation was passed to guarantee children with diagnosed disabilities receive individualized learning plans tailored to meet their specific needs.

Each child brings a mix of strengths and challenges to the classroom. Let’s use the insight gained through advances in educating kids with disabilities to leverage new technologies and teaching methods that can individualize learning for each child.

Early childhood education works

My daughter was able to attend a year of high-quality pre-K in our city schools. This experience made me a believer, and it’s one of the reasons why I greatly expanded pre-K for at-risk 4 year olds when I was governor.

The research is powerful — if you invest in high-quality programs that coordinate with K-12 curricula and have mandatory teacher standards, the gains from early education are lasting. It’s also important that we focus on coordinating investments made in early childhood programs — such as Head Start — to ensure we are effectively using our funding, eliminating any waste and bolstering the structure of our education system.

Simplify elementary education

By the time Virginians graduate from high school, they have taken at least 35 state-mandated tests in addition to all the classroom testing that good teachers require.

This over-testing phenomenon is particularly acute at the elementary level. Borrowing a phrase from Singapore’s educational reform efforts, I’d “teach less and learn more” at the elementary level by focusing the early grades on English and math fluency.

Use social studies and science material to stimulate curiosity about the world while building reading mastery and making basic math concepts more concrete. Save the state testing of science and social studies for later grades. If the early years are intensely focused on language and math, our students will perform better in all areas down the road.

Middle school as career exploration

I’d reconceive middle school as fundamentally about career exploration. What do kids know about the work world beyond what their parents do? We can make middle school more exciting if we use all parts of the curriculum to expose students to the wide range of available career choices so that, by the time they enter high school, they will be more able to choose the right direction for themselves.

Different paths to high school success

As governor, I created Governor’s Career and Technical Academies to promote the notion that technical education is as important as college preparatory courses. Virginia now offers three diploma types — standard, modified standard and advanced. Coupled with an increasing variety of other options — Advanced Placement courses, career certification exams, community college joint enrollment programs, verified online courses — a high school transcript is now a highly personalized learning résumé. Gone are the days when kids are “tracked” into a two-tier system of college prep or vocational education. When students are given exposure to all options, they can build their own high school path to the future they want.

Value the unvalued

While RPS is an urban system with fiscal challenges, it has resisted pressure to devalue arts education. These experiences enhanced my children’s creativity, confidence, communication skills and teamwork — all greatly in demand in the adult world. And it’s not just arts. Trained computer professionals are in high demand, yet most states still treat computer science courses as an elective, not allowing them to be used to meet math or science requirements. Many of the things that promote life and career success don’t fit neatly into today’s curricular requirements. Let’s create space for this kind of personal development in our schools.

Keeping good teachers

Finally, a note of gratitude. Our kids were blessed to have many wonderful teachers. There were some weak ones, but RPS teachers were mostly solid, some spectacular and a few life-changing for our children. As I listen to public debate, it often sounds like our main issue is how to get rid of bad teachers. But this problem pales beside the larger issue of how to keep good teachers.

Too many great prospective teachers never enter the profession and too many great teachers leave too early over low salaries, high-stakes testing pressure, discipline challenges and an overall belief that society doesn’t value the profession. We need a robust debate about how to value and attract good teachers.”

Tim Kaine represents Virginia in the United States Senate. This column is adapted from a longer article published by Education Week.

If I was a single issue voter as some might be and chose public education as the issue that swayed my vote – it just got swayed.

But I am not just a voter. I am a parent. I am an involved parent. I am a public school teacher. I am an advocate for public schools. I am a tax-payer. I favor the use of the arts in education. And I stay up at night reading articles and op-eds about public education. I want to know what these candidates think. Then I write about it in those very nights I stay up when my wife texts me from the other room to tell me to go to bed for God’s sake.

I distinctly remember when Chris Rock was asked by Larry King if he was going to vote for Barack Obama in 2008 for president because he was a minority. Rock said (and I paraphrase) that he would not. He was going to vote for the guy who only had one house to lose, not many houses.

Maybe, I might listen a little more to what Sen. Kaine says about public schools. Why? That’s where he sent his kids.

Me too.

Open Letter to Gov. McCrory and the NCGA Concerning Bonus Pay for Teachers

Dear Gov. McCrory and members of the North Carolina General Assembly,

This may not be a popular opinion, but it is one that is a matter of principle to me.

I will be receiving $2,000 in bonuses this year for having a certain number of students pass the AP English Language and Composition Exam for the 2015-2016. Many of you may think that it will somewhat ameliorate tensions with public school teachers like me. I do not think it will at all. I feel that it just exacerbates the real problem: lack of respect for all public school teachers.

I am not going to keep my bonus. To me it’s just academic “blood money.”

I have read about this provision of bonus money frequently in the summer. It’s in the budget that the governor is expected to sign this week, a provision adding bonus pay for teachers of Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, CTE, and 3rd grade. As the News and Observer reported this week (http://www.newsobserver.com/news/politics-government/state-politics/article89154042.html),

“Advanced Placement course teachers will receive $50 bonuses for each of their students who score 3 or higher on AP exams. Teachers of International Baccalaureate Diploma Program courses will receive a $50 bonus for each student who scores 4 or better on IB exams.

Those bonuses are capped at $2,000 per teacher per year. Scores from 2015-16 and 2016-17 will be used. Bonuses are to be paid in January 2017 and January 2018.

Teachers whose students earn approved industry certifications or credentials will win bonuses of $25 or $50 per student, depending on the value of the credential as determined by the state Department of Commerce. The bonuses are capped at $2,000 per teacher per year.”

In fact, I would receive more money in bonuses if there was no cap. But unlike class sizes, you have capped the bonuses.

But, as I said, I will not keep the bonus. Part of it will be taxed. The state will get some of it back. The feds will get some of it. Some of what the feds will get may be paying for Medicaid in other states, which is ironic because we didn’t expand it here in NC. None of it will go to my retirement plan.

The rest I will give back to my school. And don’t think I do not need the money. I do – two kids, car payment, mortgage, therapy for a special needs child, etc.

But I can’t make it this way, especially when I know why the bonus is given and the fact that it doesn’t really belong to me because so many more people at my school helped my students pass my particular AP test, one that does not even have any influence on their transcript.

I know that there are other teachers I know well who will receive bonuses for their students passing AP tests. If they keep that money, that’s their business. They need the money. They have families and needs. I will not in any way ask them what they will do with it.

There are many reasons for my opinion, and all are rooted in principles and respect, but I will attempt to explain them clearly and concisely.

1. I do not need a carrot stick. If getting a bonus to get students to perform better really works, then this should have been done a long time ago. But it does not. I do not perform better because of a bonus. I am not selling anything. I would like my students and parents to think that I work just as hard for all of my students in all of my classes because I am a teacher.

2. This creates an atmosphere of competition. I did not get into teaching so that I could compete with my fellow teachers and see who makes more money, but rather collaborate with them. Giving some teachers a chance to make bonuses and not others is a dangerous precedent.

3. I did not take those tests. The students took the tests. Sometimes I wish that I could take the tests for them, but if you are paying me more money to have students become more motivated, then that is just misplaced priorities. These students are young adults. Some vote; most drive; many have jobs; many pay taxes. They need to be able to harness their own motivation and hopefully I can couple it with my motivation.

But many of these students are taking eight classes, participating in extracurricular activities, and helping families. Plus all of the testing that we put on students that takes away from actual instructional time is staggering. Sometimes, I am amazed at what our students actually accomplish in light of the gravity they are placed under.

4. I was not the only person who taught them. To say that the success of my students on the AP English Language and Composition Test solely rested on my performance is ludicrous. While the cliché’ “It takes a village” might be overused, I do believe that the entire school’s faculty and staff has something to do with not only my students’ success, but my own. The content, study skills, time management, discipline that students must exercise to pass the AP test certainly did not all come from me. Everyone on staff, every coach, every PTSA volunteer has helped to remove obstacles for students so they could achieve.

5. Bonus pay does not work. It’s like merit pay. There is really no evidence that it helps public schools. Remember the ABC’s from the late 1990’s and the early 2000’s? Yep, I do too.

6. The state does not have a reputation of fully funding their initiatives. Again, remember the ABC’s? I still do. Those bonuses dried up because they were not fully funded. And after the bonuses are taken away in the future (which they probably will), will the expectations of student performance be lessened? History says that it will not.

7. My class is not more important as others. They all matter. I wrote Rep. Stam last fall concerning his views on merit pay and what subjects were more important than others,

“If some subjects matter more than others, then why do schools weigh all classes the same on a transcript? If some subjects matter more than others, then why do we teach all of those subjects? I certainly feel that as an English teacher, the need to teach reading and writing skills is imperative to success in any endeavor that a student wishes to pursue after graduation. In fact, what teachers in any subject area are trained to do is to not just impart knowledge, but treat every student as an individual with unique learning styles, abilities, and aptitudes in a manner that lets each student grow as a person, one who can create and make his/her own choices. “

8. This sets a dangerous precedent in measuring students and teachers. As I stated in my aforementioned letter to Rep. Stam,

“Effective public schools are collaborative communities, not buildings full of contractors who are determined to outperform others for the sake of money. And when teachers are forced to focus on the results of test scores, teaching ceases from being a dynamic relationship between student and teacher, but becomes a transaction driven by a carrot on an extended stick. Furthermore, the GOP-led NCGA still does not seem to acknowledge that student growth is different than student test scores. When some of our colleagues deal with students who experience more poverty, health issues, and other factors, then how can you say that those teachers do not “grow” those students when an arbitrary test score is all that is used to measure students?”

9. This is a reward, but far from showing respect. It’s an election year. Many teachers got a raise, but again that is an “average” raise. Bonuses in this case seem more like “hush money” and a means to brag that you seem to care about teacher compensation. But if you really respected teachers, you would do more for them than give “bonuses” to a few of them. You would reward them with salaries comparable with the rest of the nation. You would restore due-process rights for new teachers, you would give back graduate degree pay, you would stop measuring schools with a defeatist model, and you would restore longevity pay.

10. It’s pure electioneering. There is uncontrolled charter school growth. There are loosened sanctions on for-profit virtual schools. There are massive amounts of money going to Opportunity Grants which will no doubt fill the coffers of schools that do not even teach the same curriculum as those teachers you want to “reward” with these bonuses. There is HB2, HB3/TABOR, and an ASD district still out there. There is the lowered per pupil expenditure. All of this affects the very schools that you think a bonus will help to hide.

These bonuses are not part of the solution. They are a symptom of a bigger problem. And while I will defend each person who receives this bonus his/her right to keep it and spend it any way he/she chooses, I plan to give mine to my school, one of many that you have not fully resourced.

Stuart Egan, NBCT
West Forsyth High School

Open Letter to Fellow NC Public School Teachers – What We Do Cannot Really Be Measured

Public school teachers,

You can’t really be measured.

In fact, those who are measuring you do not have instruments complex enough to really gauge your effectiveness.

If you are a public school teacher in North Carolina, you are always under a bit of a microscope when it comes to accountability. Everybody in the community has a stake in the public education system: students attend schools, parents support efforts, employees hire graduates, and taxpayers help fund buildings and resources.

But there are those who really question the path that public education has taken in North Carolina and lack confidence in our teachers and their ability to mold young people. The countless attacks waged by our General Assembly on public schools is not a secret and part of that is framing teachers as the main culprit in our weakening schools.

Why? Because it is easy to manage data in such a way that what many see is not actually reflective of what happens in schools. For example:

  • We have a Jeb Bush school grading system that “failed” schools where wonderful learning is occurring.
  • We have lawmakers allowing charter schools to be created with tax payer money without much regulation.
  • We have a voucher system that is allowing people to send children to schools that do not even have to teach the same standards as public schools.
  • We have virtual charter schools that have loose regulations.
  • We have an Achievement School District established even though no real evidence exists in its effectiveness.

Since you are a government employee, your salary is established by a governing body that probably does not have a background in an educational career. The standards of the very curriculum that you must teach may not even be written by educators. And the tests that measure how well your students have achieved are usually constructed by for-profit companies under contract from the state government. Those same tests are probably graded by those very same companies – for a nominal fee of course. And now that we have less money spent per-pupil in this state than we had before the start of the Great Recession, we are demanded to teach more kids in bigger classes with less resources.

There simply is a lot working against us.

However, if anything could be said of the current situation concerning public education in North Carolina it is that teachers have not failed our students. That’s because you cannot simply measure students and teachers by numbers and random variables. You measure them by their personal success and growth, and much of that cannot be ascertained by impersonal assessments.

Nor can a teacher’s effectiveness truly be measured by “student achievement”. There is more, so much more, working within the student/teacher dynamic. Take a look at the definitions of three words often used in our lexicon: “art”, “science”, and “craft”. These definitions come from Merriam-Webster.

  1. Art: skill acquired by experience, study, or observation
  2. Science: the state of knowing :  knowledge as distinguished from ignorance or misunderstanding
  3. Craft: skill in planning, making, or executing

Every teacher must display a firm foundation in his or her subject area. However, teaching at its source is an art and a craft. A teacher must marry that knowledge with skill in presenting opportunities for students to not only gain that knowledge but understand how they themselves can apply that knowledge to their own skill set.

There are not many people who are masterfully skillful without having to develop their craft. They do exist, but the term “Master Teacher” is usually given to someone who has a “skill acquired by experience, study, or observation.” That “Master Teacher” has perfected an art form and married it to a science. And most of all, that “Master Teacher” understands the human element.

A good medical doctor just does not deliver medicines and write prescriptions. There must be willingness to listen in order to make a diagnosis and then there is the “bedside manner”. A good lawyer does not just understand and know the law. A good lawyer knows how to apply it for his or her client in unique situations. A master chef doesn’t just follow recipes. A master chef takes what ingredients are available and makes something delectable and nourishing. A great teacher does not just deliver curriculum and apply lesson plans; a great teacher understands different learning styles exist in the same classroom and facilitates learning for each student despite the emotional, psychological, social, mental, and/or physical obstacles that may stand in each student’s path.

How schools and students are measured rarely takes into account that so much more defines the academic and social terrain of a school culture than a standardized test can measure. Why? Because there really is not anything like a standardized student. Experienced teachers understand that because they look at students as individuals who are the sum of their experiences, backgrounds, work ethic, and self-worth. Yet, our General Assembly measures them with the very same criteria across the board with an impersonal test.

Ironically, when a teacher gets a graduate degree in education, it is often defined by the college or university as a Master of Arts like a MAEd or an MAT, not a Master of Science. That’s because teaching deals with people, not numbers. When colleges look at an application of a student, they are more concerned with GPA rather than performance on an EOG or EOCT or NC Final.

And when good teachers look at their own effectiveness in their art and craft, they usually do not let the state dictate their perceptions. They take an honest look at the each student’s growth throughout the year – growth that may never be seen in a school report card or published report.

Like many veteran teachers, I have taught the gambit of academic levels and grades from “low-performing” freshmen to high achieving AP students who have been admitted into the most competitive of colleges and universities. And while I may take pride in their passing state tests or AP exams, I try and measure my performance by what happens to those students later in life.

  • When a student ends a “thank you” card because she felt like she learned something, then I did a good job.
  • When a student stops me in the grocery store years after graduating to introduce me to his child, then I made an impression.
  • When I read an email from a student in college who sends me a copy of her first English paper that received one of the three “A’s” given out of a hundred students, then I feel good about what I did in the classroom.
  • When a student comes to visit me on his break and flat out tells my current students that what I did in class prepared him for college, then I was successful.
  • When a former student emails me from half-way around the world to tell me what life is like for her since graduating, then I am validated.
  • When a parent comes to you to ask how his/her child could be helped in a matter totally unrelated to academics, then you have made an impression.
  • When you speak at a former student’s funeral because that student loved your class, then, well that’s just hard to put into words.

None of those aforementioned items could ever be measured by a test. Students do not remember questions on an EOCT or an EOG or an NC Final or a quarter test. They remember your name and how they felt in your class.

However, the greatest irony when it comes measuring a teacher’s effectiveness in the manner that NC measures us is that is it a truer barometer of how much NC is being hurt by this current administration and General Assembly.

  • Think about Medicaid not being expanded.
  • Think that nearly a fourth of our children live in poverty.
  • Think about the Voter ID law.
  • Think about the lax regulations for fracking and coal ash ponds that hurt our water supply.
  • Think about less money per pupil in schools.
  • Think about more money coming from out-of-state Super PACS to fund pilitiacl races here in NC than exists in the operating budgets of many counties.
  • Think about TABOR and HB3.
  • Think about HB2.
  • Think about cut unemployment benefits.

All of those affect students in our schools. And we still do the job. Rather, we still heed the calling.

That’s the best measure of what we do.

That and the drawer where I keep all of those cards and letters because I keep every one of them.

The Newest Member of the Endangered Species List in NC, the “NorthCackalacky Magister expertus” Otherwise Known as the North Carolina Veteran Teacher

There are many on West Jones Street in Raleigh who are deathly afraid of a certain “genus” of people, and more scared are they of a certain species in that genus that they have exerted great effort to make it endangered in hopes of making it extinct.

The biological classification of this genus / species is called “NorthCackalacky Magister expertus”, otherwise known as the North Carolina veteran teacher.

Interestingly enough, you can still find these “NorthCackalacky Magister experti” in public schools. Many have graduate degrees in education and other vital fields, have due-process rights, and have survived many government-driven initiatives to change curriculum, testing, and evaluation protocols. These veteran teachers have also withstood the failed initiatives of merit pay, No Child Left Behind, and Race to the Top. Currently many are weathering, but still educating effectively, in the wake of school voucher programs, ridiculous school measurement instruments, and lowered funding. Some even belong to education advocacy associations like NCAE.

And having these “NorthCackalacky Magister experti” in our schools is vital to our students and our communities. Furthermore, they pave the way for newer teachers, also referred to as “NorthCackalacky Magister novi” to mature into “NorthCackalacky Magister experti”. If there are no more “experti”, then the “novi” will not transition into “experti” themselves.

However, many profit-minded political poachers are lurking in legislative chambers hoping to alter the environment for these veteran teachers in hopes to prevent more from coming into fruition. Why? Because veteran teachers with due-process rights have the ability to provide a check and balance for the public school system like none other against the forces of personalities and profit that are mixed in NC’s politics.

And while there are still many “NorthCackalacky Magister experti” in schools now, they are lower in number than five years ago, and those numbers will continue to dwindle if current “environmental stressors” stay in place.

It will get to a point where the “NorthCackalacky Magister experti” will be no longer. They will either go to other states or mutate into another profession.

They will be extinct. And our schools, students, and communities will suffer severely from that.

What actions have been taken to help eradicate our veteran teachers and keep new teachers from becoming veterans in North Carolina? They are many and they are deliberate.

  1. Removal of due-process rights. At one time the NC General Assembly took away due-process rights for all teachers. It was ruled unconstitutional by the court system in the case for those veteran teachers who already got those rights when they became fully certified. However, new teachers in the profession will not get due-process rights in North Carolina. That will surely inhibit those teachers from advocating loudly for schools in the future for fear of reprisal.

And those teachers who had due-process rights may be retiring earlier than expected because of conditions.

“NorthCackalacky Magister novi” cannot fully become “NorthCackalacky Magister experti” if not allowed to stand up for themselves and the students they teach.

  1. Removal of Graduate Degree pay bumps. As with due-process rights, graduate degree pay bumps have been abolished. What once represented the only way (besides National Board Certification) to gain a promotion in pay was to get a relevant graduate degree. While many have argued that teachers with graduate degrees are not more effective, that argument is usually made by people who stand to profit from controlling teacher pay (https://www.ednc.org/2016/04/22/why-teachers-believe-advanced-degrees-matter/).

    “NorthCackalacky Magister novi” cannot fully become “NorthCackalacky Magister experti” if not allowed to work on becoming more qualified.

  2. Salary Scale “adjustments”. This current GOP-led NCGA put into place a new salary schedule a couple of years ago that literally topped out at $50 K as the highest salary a new teacher could ever make in a thirty-year career. While many in the NCGA claim that salaries have gone up for teachers they lock in on a trivial word – “average”. It’s true that average salaries have gone up, but really only for the newer teachers. Veteran teachers did not receive these kinds of raises.

Besides, it is easier to pay three new teachers than two veteran teachers if you are only looking at the bottom line for salary. However, think of the mentoring and the effect on student achievement coming from those veteran teachers, especially if they are respected by the state.

Oh, and that doesn’t even begin the discussion of the removal of longevity pay, which in NC only applies to teachers.

Also, this post by Kris Nordstrom from NC Policy Watch sheds light on the latest budget and how many in the NCGOP have misstated the actual raises they claim to have made: http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2016/07/07/2016-budget-includes-false-statement-on-average-teacher-salaries/.

“NorthCackalacky Magister novi” cannot fully become “NorthCackalacky Magister experti” if they cannot make a salary that allows for them to support a family and/or have a mortgage.

  1. Removal of class size caps. When the legislation removed the caps on class size, it helped to balloon the number of students in a class for teachers. That applies to all teachers, k-12. Some systems made the switch to block scheduling as well for their high schools. Simply put, teachers are teaching more classes with more kids with less planning time and collaboration opportunities.

Also put into consideration the removal of funds for professional development and teachers are forced to either get recertified in the summer on their own time and money, or they have to squeeze that professional development into the school year which takes away time from those bigger classes.
“NorthCackalacky Magister novi” cannot fully become “NorthCackalacky Magister experti” if they are forced to teach so many kids that it takes away from the student/teacher dynamic crucial to learning.

  1. Too many standardized tests. The only thing a citizen has to do is to see how many tests are administered in a public school for the sake of measuring student achievement – EOG’s, EOCT’s, NC Finals, PSAT, PLAN, ACT, AP, ASVAB, etc.,etc.,etc.

And that doesn’t even touch the time needed to review for the exam or to take teacher made exams.
“NorthCackalacky Magister novi” cannot fully become “NorthCackalacky Magister experti” if not allowed to have a say into what is on the test and how those tests are graded.

  1. Inconsistent teacher evaluation programs. Two words – Standard 6. Three more words – Value Added Measures.

“NorthCackalacky Magister novi” cannot fully become “NorthCackalacky Magister experti” if their effectiveness is measured arbitrarily.

  1. Lack of resources and less money per pupil. This has been explained so many times, but it can’t be stated enough. I said in a previous post about this the following (https://caffeinatedrage.com/2016/04/30/north-carolinas-playbook-to-dismantle-public-education/ ):

“The argument that Gov. McCrory and the GOP-led General Assembly have made repeatedly is that they are spending more on public education now than ever before. And they are correct. We do spend more total money now than before the recession hit. But that is a simplified and spun claim because North Carolina has had a tremendous population increase and the need to educate more students.

Let me use an analogy. Say in 2008, a school district had 1000 students in its school system and spent 10 million dollars in its budget to educate them. That’s a 10,000 per pupil expenditure. Now in 2015, that same district has 1500 students and the school system is spending 11.5 million to educate them. According to Raleigh’s claims, that district is spending more total dollars now than in 2008 on education, but the per-pupil expenditure has gone down significantly to over 2300 dollars per student or 23percent.”

“NorthCackalacky Magister novi” cannot fully become “NorthCackalacky Magister experti” if they constantly are asked to do more with less and watch as charter schools and vouchers suck more money from traditional public schools.

  1. School grading system. This is another “constantly explained” item. From the same posting as above (https://caffeinatedrage.com/2016/04/30/north-carolinas-playbook-to-dismantle-public-education/):

“This letter grading system used by the state literally shows how poverty in our state affects student achievement. What the state proved with this grading system is that it is ignoring the very students who need the most help — not just in the classroom, but with basic needs such as early childhood programs and health-care accessibility. These performance grades also show that schools with smaller class sizes and more individualized instruction are more successful, a fact that lawmakers willfully ignore when it comes to funding our schools to avoid overcrowding.”

“NorthCackalacky Magister novi” cannot fully become “NorthCackalacky Magister experti” if they are constantly being told that their schools are “failing” when they actually show substantial student growth.

Those are eight of the more seen ways that the NCGA has tried to alter the environment to eventually exterminate the “NorthCackalacky Magister experti”. To a certain extent, it has worked. Last year’s teacher turnover report claimed a turnover rate of 11.6% (http://www.ncpublicschools.org/docs/educatoreffectiveness/surveys/leaving/2014-15turnoverreport.pdf). It was surely more than that as not all teachers who leave the profession report to DPI their reasons. Some teachers, as Kris Nordtrom mentions in the aforementioned reference, move to another district that may have more local supplement and support to offer. In that case, it could be just the “NorthCackalacky Magister experti” migrating to places where the environment has not been as damaged.

And remember, if a species becomes extinct….

Fifty Shades of No Way – New SBOE Member Todd Chasteen’s First Book To Challenge

Now that Todd Chasteen has now been appointed to the NC State Board of Education, I would like to go ahead and ask that he and others on the board read the latest installment of the Fifty Shades of … book for possible inclusion in schools, or at least in the dialogue of what is happening in North Carolina.

I will offer only this table of contents to the SBOE and Mr. Chasteen in deference to any delicate sensibilities toward works of literature that actually display and describe the human condition through creative use of language, strong diction, vivid imagery, incredible detail, and varying syntax.

I must admit that the other books in this series really are not that well written and have one driving motif, but I would ask that this book, Fifty Shades of No Way, be investigated as it does accurately portray the climate and terrain of the Old North State.

Here is the list of chapter titles. There are 50 –Get it? Fifty Shades of No Way. In each chapter there is deception, manipulation, vivid imagery, hurt feelings, but most of all in each one of them someone is getting screwed pretty hard and often, mainly the citizens of North Carolina.

Enjoy

  1. HB2 – Bathroom Bill
  2. HB3 – 5.5% income tax cap – TABOR
  3. Medicaid Expansion Denied
  4. Voter ID Law
  5. Gerrymandering of Districts
  6. Duke Coal Ash Ponds
  7. Fracking Industry Without Oversight
  8. Teacher Pay still at the bottom tier in the nation
  9. Removal of due-process rights for new teachers
  10. Tom Ross Replaced With Margaret Spellings
  11. Graduate Degree Pay Bumps Removed for new teachers
  12. Bad Teacher Evaluation Systems
  13. Push for Merit Pay
  14. “Average” Raises and neglecting veteran teachers
  15. Central Office Allotment Cuts
  16. Rainy Day Fund That Can’t be Accessed Unless The Apocolypse Comes
  17. Religious Freedom Bill
  18. Attacks on Teacher Advocacy Groups (NCAE)
  19. Revolving Door of Standardized Tests
  20. Less Money Spent per Pupil in Traditional Public Schools
  21. Remove Caps on Class Sizes
  22. Jeb Bush School Grading System
  23. Opportunity Grants Expansion
  24. Allowing Private and Religious Schools To Profit From Tax Payer Money
  25. Charter School Growth Without Regulation
  26. Virtual Schools Deregulation
  27. Achievement School Districts
  28. Reduction of Teacher Candidates in Colleges
  29. Elimination of Teaching Fellows Program
  30. Governor’s Inability to Defend Policies to the Press
  31. Governor’s Unwillingness to Defend Policies to the Press
  32. Attacks on Teacher Assistants
  33. Elimination of State Employees Rights to File Discrimination Suits in State Courts
  34. Pissing Off Bruce Springsteen
  35. Using God and Jesus as Political Crutches
  36. Gov. Dan Forest’s request to have Charter School Report to be Rewritten
  37. Buck Newton Keeping Our State Straight
  38. House Bill 539 – Giving Charters Money For Services They Do Not Provide
  39. Rowan-Salisbury Pepper Spray Proposal
  40. Chad Barefoot’s Appt. to Senate Education Committee Chair
  41. Teach For America Expansion Plans
  42. SB 873 – Access To Affordable College Education Act
  43. Clyde Edgerton and New Hanover County’s Superintendent
  44. What the Teacher Working Conditions Survey Really Said
  45. Arresting of Teachers Who Protested and Saying They Were At Fault
  46. McCrory’s Didaskalithedemosiophobia – Yep, That’s What I said – Look it up on my Blog
  47. SB867 – Background Checking Bill
  48. Appointing People Who Are Not Qualified to the SBOE
  49. Special Sessions of the General Assembly
  50. Surreptitious Midnight Meetings to Craft Bills That Only Benefit a Few