North Carolina’s Continued Passive Aggressive War on Public Education

Rep. Tim Moore’s recent missive in EdNC.org (“Education reforms for North Carolina’s future”) begins with one of the more sweeping fallacies made by many in Raleigh who champion the crippling policies surrounding public education.

TimMooreNC

He starts,

“The North Carolina General Assembly is implementing meaningful public school reforms that are popular with parents and students because they focus on families’ shared priority of improving student achievement” (https://www.ednc.org/2017/11/09/education-reforms-north-carolinas-future/).

Popular with parents and students? Meaningful? Focused on shared priorities?

Well, consider the following list that just highlights some of those “reform” efforts from just the last eleven months.

  1. House Bill 17 was passed and “is meant to shift more power to Johnson and deem him the ‘administrative head’ of the state education department. The current law says some of the superintendent’s duties are ‘subject to the discretion, control and approval of the State Board of Education,’ but that language has been removed in several places in the proposed bill” (http://www.wral.com/bill-would-give-more-power-to-new-nc-superintendent-reduce-role-of-school-board/16341626/).
  2. A lawsuit by the state board against the superintendent over HB17 starts early in 2017. The General Assembly backs the state superintendent with taxpayer money in the case. The state board must use its own budget to finance lawsuit.
  3. The General Assembly passes a law (HB13) to limit class sizes in K-3 classrooms but does not allocate funds and resources to help hire needed teachers for new classes created in response or to help build extra classrooms.
  4. A principal pay plan that actually punishes many principals is passed without input from educators and is crafted in part by private business entities.
  5. Schools will no longer have Biology I test scores used to calculate school performance grade and school report cards when those scores have been among the highest in past years for each school.
  6. There is a new version of the N.C. Teaching Fellows that is a mere shadow of its former self.
  7. Opportunity Grants were expanded without any research backing its success to nearly a billion dollars over the next ten years.
  8. The Department of Public Instruction has its budget slashed by nearly 20% for the next two years.
  9. SB599 is passed and it allows people to enter the teaching profession with minimal training.
  10. An Innovative School District selects an unwilling school to turn over to a for-profit entity to “reform” it. That school system where the school resides is considering shutting down the school.
  11. Per-pupil expenditures still are one of the worst in the country.
  12. Textbook funding still lags millions behind what pre-recession levels were.
  13. There is a rash boon of a method to reformulate how monies are allocated to local school systems based political ideologies and personalities rather than principles.
  14. The state superintendent has not asserted himself as an instructional leader.

And that lawsuit between the state board of education and the state superintendent is still ongoing as it has been requested by the state board for the N.C. Supreme Court to hear the case all the while the very General Assembly that is propping the state superintendent is trying to recreate how judges in this state are elected and selected as well as drawing new judicial districts in an effort to take over the judicial system. That’s the same General Assembly that has been called out for gerrymandering districts – twice.

And Tim Moore wants to claim “The North Carolina General Assembly is implementing meaningful public school reforms that are popular with parents and students because they focus on families’ shared priority of improving student achievement.”

If “implementing meaningful public school reforms” means “waging war on public education” in this context, then Tim Moore is exactly right.

“At” The Table or “On” the Table – The Need for Teacher Input in Educational “Reform”

You can be either “at” the table or “on” the table.

For teachers in North Carolina, there are many other prepositions that could identify the relationship between the legislation process and teacher input such as “under” the table, “without” a place at the table, or “behind” the table.

But we are really never “at” the table.

Julie Kowal’s recent perspective on EdNC.org entitled “North Carolina’s new approach to teacher recruitment,” praised the new version of the North Carolina Teaching Fellows Program to be launched this year.

As a veteran public school teacher, when I see BEST NC defending or lauding a piece of reform, I take it with a grain of salt.

Actually, it’s an entire salt block.

Aside from the glowing generalities that sprinkle rhetorical glitter throughout this piece, I could not help but think that like so many other “reforms” and “innovations” that have been created and enacted in North Carolina, this one lacks a crucial and vital component: teacher input.

Kowal is the Vice-President of Policy and Research at BEST NC, a “non-partisan” business consortium for education advocacy. In the few years that it has been in existence, BEST NC has helped to craft policy and “reform” to supposedly strengthen public education in North Carolina which has waned in the past few years according to her and many others.

Kowal explains,

North Carolina has previously led the nation in education innovations, and will do it again, with new and pioneering solutions designed specifically to solve the talent challenges our schools face today (https://www.ednc.org/2017/11/08/north-carolinas-new-approach-teacher-recruitment/).

Those “new and pioneering solutions” she is talking about include the new principal pay plan, the rise of charter schools, the expansion of vouchers, the gutting and rebirth of a distant relative in the Teaching Fellows Program, and much more.

They all have one thing in common: no teacher input.

When the NC General Assembly went into GOP hands and McCrory came to the governor’s mansion, the process of “reforming” education began in earnest. There was the removal of due-process rights, the removal of graduate degree pay, Standard 6, push for merit pay, bonus pay, removal of longevity pay, removal of class size caps and then the placing of class size caps without funds to hire extra teachers or build extra classrooms, etc.

The list goes on.

Were there any teachers involved in these reforms? Any teacher advocacy groups consulted? Any way a teacher could chime in?

Those are not rhetorical questions. And considering that the current General Assembly seems bent upon diluting the voice of groups like NCAE, it should not be a stretch to realize that teachers are not consulted when it comes to schools.

The Report on Education Legislation from the 2017 Session of the General Assembly released by DPI and the State Board has a list of all of the bills that were passed that in one way or another affect public education.

From pages 4 and 5.

Bills 2Bills 1

Excluding the “local bills,” how many of those bills and “reforms” had teacher input? How many of those initiatives had any consideration from teachers and asked for contributions from public school educators?

Look at SB599. Sen. Chad Barefoot’s idea of streamlining the teacher recruitment process literally allows for teachers to enter the profession with very little preparation. Was there teacher input?

Again, not a rhetorical question. And do not let it be lost in the world of sadistic irony that Barefoot was the chief champion of the newest version of the Teacher Fellows Program.

When Kowal praises the new version of the Teaching Fellows Program, it is hard not to ask if BEST NC had a hand in its current rendition. Their ties to the business community are apparent, but can they actually really claim that they have extended relationships with actual teachers and teacher groups?

I do not think so. And that resembles the modus operandi of the NC General Assembly who even this past year crafted in a special session the very “laws” (like HB17) currently debated in courts that would enable a man with hardly any educational experience to run without checks and balances the entire public school system.

And the very criteria that measure teacher effectiveness and school performance are established and constantly changed by that same body of lawmakers without teacher input will always translate into a narrative that reform is always needed.

Kowal stated in her perspective that we as a state did lead the nation in educational innovation.

We sure did.

But that was before teachers were not allowed to be “at” the table any longer.

North Carolina Should Get Back to the ROOTS of the Teaching Fellows Program, Not Just the STEM

It is rather odd that in the same session that produced the nebulous and de-professionalizing SB599 bill a sanitized and highly truncated version of the North Carolina Teaching Fellows program was reintroduced.

teaching fellows

As reported by Matthew Adams in the “Under The Dome” section of the News & Observer on July 1st,

North Carolina will pay college tuition costs for students who commit to teaching science, technology, engineering, math or special education within the state.

The N.C. General Assembly eliminated a similar program in 2011. The Teaching Fellows program dated to 1986 and awarded loans each year to pay four years of tuition for 500 students who agreed to pay back the loan by teaching in the state for four years.

Under the revived Teaching Fellows program, forgivable loans of $8,250 each year will go to 160 students as long as they commit to teaching in special education or STEM fields. The new program was included in the state budget that the legislature enacted over a veto from Gov. Roy Cooper, who wanted more education spending (http://www.newsobserver.com/news/politics-government/politics-columns-blogs/under-the-dome/article159267114.html).

Given that most professions which hire use graduates with degrees in those selected fields pay much more than a public school teacher, this current General Assembly has shown that it will not budge on raising the monetary rewards of teaching those chosen fields.

What also needs not be mentioned is that having 160 potential teachers at “only one of five public or private universities to be selected by an appointed committee by Nov. 15” will not come anywhere to replacing 500 potential teachers at multiple campuses who were for 25 years also walking advertisements for teaching in the state that was at one time committed to public schools.

And it doesn’t take a person with a science, technology, engineering, or math degree to figure out that the committee appointed to select the campuses for the new Teaching Fellows Program will be part of a group that has not listened to science, not used technology appropriately, has engineered a gerrymandered state, and used fuzzy math to explain horrible policies.

But there is a large amount of sadistic irony in “reviving” a minor version of the Teaching Fellows for STEM subjects because the very people who are crafting this piece of “makeup” legislation really do not appreciate the very subject areas that they are focusing on preparing teachers for.

When one thinks of science and the state of North Carolina it is hard not to think of the Duke coal ash spills and the ensuing environmental concerns for clean drinking water in areas of the state.

If science involves studying the environment and if legislators are so concerned with making sure that our students have good science teachers with degrees from good institutions, then should not those same legislators be more willing to accept what science has taught us?

Like effects of fracking?

Like effects of “garbage juice”?

Like effects of hog waste on property?

If technology is important, should legislators not use it more effectively or promote it more effectively? With an age of digital commerce and distance bridging capability, it is rather necessary for a state to be inviting to technological corporations as a way of helping grow the economy.

But if you’re North Carolina, you pass a law like HB2 that makes it easy for any company to not set up business or even do business in the state. The effects of that law will always be under debate, but it surely kept Pat McCrory from being the only sitting governor who was seeking reelection to not win.

In NC history.

In a state that went for Donald Trump.

And most of the engineering that has occurred on West Jones Street seems to have been rather destructive than constructive. This is the same legislative body that has secretly colluded to pass partisan bills in multiple special sessions which have forced so much legal entanglements that hardly a person in power is not involved in a court case that keeps him or her from fulfilling duties.

Ask Elaine Marshall, who now has an impeachment proceeding thrown her way for doing her job and for being a democrat. That’s engineering.

Ask Gov. Cooper, who is having to go to court just to protect his constitutional given powers. That’s engineering.

Ask Mark Johnson who, well, who has been engineered to be a puppet in the Department of Public Instruction for the GOP powers in Raleigh to help further privatize public education.

And math? Just getting lawmakers to admit that there is a major difference between “actual” and “average” when it comes to discussing money actually spent on public education would be a start.

Just ask a veteran teacher.

Or Senator Jerry Tillman who thinks that two math curriculums can be taught in one class by one teacher who might be teaching over thirty students at one time because class caps have been removed in high schools by the same people who will be naming a committee to select campuses for the new Teaching Fellows.

Oh, and for those wonderful people who may devote themselves to teaching Special Education classes? This is the same lawmaking body that has threatened teacher assistant positions across the state while applauding the appointment of secretary of education who has no idea of what IDEA is.

So while focusing on STEM with this watered-down version of a once fantastic program, maybe these lawmakers should go to the ROOTS of the problems in our state.

They may find themselves there.

North Carolina – FULLY FUND YOUR SCHOOLS!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The New York Times article also stated the following:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Counties with lower incomes have schools that suffer more.

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

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

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

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

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

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