Our Public Schools Are Better Than the NCGA Would Want You to Believe

Our public schools are better than you may think.

Probably a lot better.

With the constant dialogue that “we must improve schools” and the “need to implement reforms,” it is imperative that we as a taxpaying public seek to understand all of the variables in which schools are and can be measured, and not all of them are quantifiable.

And not all of them are reported or allowed to be seen.

Betsy DeVos’s recent assertion on 60 Minutes that America’s schools have seen no improvement despite the billions and billions of dollars thrown at them was nearsighted, closeminded, and rather uneducated because she is displaying two particular characteristics of lawmakers and politicians who are bent on delivering a message that public schools are not actually working.

The first is the insistence that “they” know education better than those who actually work in education. DeVos has no background in statistical analysis, administration, or teaching. The second is the calculated spin of evidence and/or the squashing of actual truth.

Last week DeVos tweeted the following:

What she did not say was that:

  • “The U.S. average performance appears to be relatively low partly because we have so many more test takers from the bottom of the social class distribution.”
  • “A sampling error in the U.S. administration of the most recent international (PISA) test resulted in students from the most disadvantaged schools being over-represented in the overall U.S. test-taker sample.”
  • “Conventional ranking reports based on PISA make no adjustments for social class composition or for sampling errors.”
  • “If U.S. adolescents had a social class distribution that was similar to the distribution in countries to which the United States is frequently compared, average reading scores in the United States would be higher than average reading scores in the similar post-industrial countries we examined (France, Germany, and the United Kingdom), and average math scores in the United States would be about the same as average math scores in similar post-industrial countries.”
  • “On average, and for almost every social class group, U.S. students do relatively better in reading than in math, compared to students in both the top-scoring and the similar post-industrial countries.”

Those bulleted points come from a study by Richard Rothstein and Martin Carnroy entitled “What do international tests really show about U. S. student performance?” Published by the Economic Policy Institute, the researchers made a detailed report of the backgrounds of the test takers from the database compiled by the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA).

Either DeVos does not want you to know that information because it would defeat her reformist narrative or she just does not know. But when the public is not made aware, the public tends to believe those who control the dialogue.

Those who control the dialogue in North Carolina and in many other states only tell their side of the spin and neglect to talk of all of the variables that schools are and should be measured by.

Consider the following picture/graph:

schools 1

All of the external forces that affect the health of traditional public schools generally are controlled and governed by our North Carolina General Assembly, rather by the supermajority currently in power.

The salaries and benefits that teachers receive are mandated and controlled by the NCGA. When graduate degree pay bumps and due-process rights were removed from newer teachers, that affected recruitment of teachers. When the salary schedule became more “bottom-heavy” for newer teachers, it affected the retaining of veteran teachers.

With the changes from NCLB to RttT, from standard Course of Study to Common Core, from one standardized test to another, and from one curriculum revision to another, the door of public school “requirements” has become an ever-revolving door. Add to that the fact that teachers within the public schools rarely get to either help create or grade those very standardized tests.

North Carolina still spends less on per-pupil expenditures than it did since before the Great Recession when adjusted for inflation. Who has control of that? The North Carolina General Assembly.

Within the next ten years, NC will spend almost a billion dollars financing the Opportunity Grants, a voucher program, when there exists no empirical data showing that they actually improve student outcomes. Removing the charter school cap also has allowed more taxpayer money to go to entities that do not show any more improvement over traditional schools on average. When taxpayer money goes to vouchers and charter schools, it becomes money that is not used for the almost %90 of students who still go to traditional public schools.

And just look at the ways that schools are measured. School Performance Grades really have done nothing but show the effects of poverty. School report cards carry data that is compiled and aggregated by secret algorithms, and teacher evaluation procedures have morphed more times than a strain of the flu.

When the very forces that can so drastically affect traditional public schools are coupled with reporting protocols controlled by the same lawmaking body, how the public ends up viewing the effectiveness of traditional public schools can equally be spun.

schools 2

If test scores truly dictated the effectiveness of schools, then everyone in Raleigh in a position to affect policy should take the tests and see how they fare. If continuing to siphon taxpayer money into reforms that have not shown any empirical data of student improvement is still done, then those who push those reforms should be evaluated.

So much goes into what makes a public school effective, and yes, there are some glaring shortcomings in our schools, but when the very people who control the environment in which schools can operate make much noise about how our schools are failing us, then they might need to look in the mirror to identify the problem.

Because in so many ways our schools are really succeeding despite those who want to reform them.

Using the Public School System as a Scapegoat – Mark Johnson’s Latest Erroneous Op-ed

Scapegoating – “Unfairly blaming an unpopular person or group of people for a problem or a person or group that is an easy target for such blame.”

(From http://www.logicallyfallacious.com)

This past week, North Carolina lost out as a site for a new Toyota-Mazda mega plant that would have been worth over 1.6 billion dollars. According to WRAL,

North Carolina’s search for an automotive plant to call its own will continue, as Toyota and Mazda officials announced Wednesday that they will build a $1.6 billion factory in Huntsville, Ala.

The plant is expected to employ 4,000 people and produce 300,000 vehicles a year for the two companies when it opens in 2021. Toyota plans to assemble the Corolla sedan there, while Mazda said it will use the factory to produce new crossover vehicles for the U.S. market (http://www.wral.com/reports-nc-loses-toyota-mazda-car-plant-to-alabama/17247853/).

Let it be known that NC was a finalist – one of two states that made the final cut.

North Carolina Commerce Secretary said such a decision came down to “logistics.” He stated in the same WRAL report,

“North Carolina has a robust automotive parts industry, but they’re not necessarily where the sweet spot is for Toyota suppliers. Toyota has a plant in Alabama. They have an established supply chain that’s in Alabama, Tennessee, Indiana, and also the proximity to Mexico for suppliers of parts.

“We can’t move North Carolina southwest. [With Alabama’s] geography, they’re proximally located in that corner where the supply chain is tended to locate.

However, State Superintendent Mark Johnson claimed a different reason: North Carolina’s education system. In a recent perspective in EdNC.org entitled “The talent pipeline is the key to bringing jobs to North Carolina,” Johnson offered the following:

We must offer a talent pipeline unmatched by our competitors and eliminate one of the biggest challenges companies currently face — recruiting skilled workers.

Supplying a skilled workforce that companies can’t get elsewhere starts in our public schools. North Carolina must demonstrate to students that we support multiple paths to success after graduation (https://www.ednc.org/2018/01/12/talent-pipeline-key-bringing-jobs-north-carolina/).

Johnson, in his “vast experience” as an economic planner and commerce analyst made a brief mention of the “auto parts supply” that Copeland talks about, but the premise of his op-ed seems to be relying on his “vast experience” as a teacher and “leader” of the public school system of a state that is in the top ten in population.

Johnson blamed (yes, that is essentially what he did) NC’s loss of a potential mega-plant on the lack of a “talent pipeline” and the current inability of our school systems to produce a workforce that could have worked the jobs that Toyota and Mazda could have brought.

Johnson scapegoated our public school system. Pure and simple.

It not the lack of talent; it was the fact that Alabama is geographically more positioned to work well for Toyota and Mazda. If NC’s talent pipeline was not good enough, then NC would not have been one of the two finalists.

Furthermore, Copeland has a lot more ethos, credibility, and experience to explain how Alabama landed the mega-plant. He’s been working on that much longer than Johnson has. A LOT MORE.

But if Johnson wants to make the claim that NC lost to Alabama because of its ability to create a talent pool, then maybe he should compare how both states treat their public school systems.

Simply refer to the NEA’s Rankings and Estimates Report where 2016 was ranked and 2017 statistics were projected. The NEA does the report every year and it is considered very reliable (http://www.nea.org/assets/docs/2017_Rankings_and_Estimates_Report-FINAL-SECURED.pdf).

NEA rankings

  • In 2016, Alabama had 4,863,300 people compared to North Carolina’s 10,146,788. That makes NC over twice as large as Alabama population-wise. That’s twice as much “talent” to choose from just looking at the numbers (Table A-1).
  • In 2016, AL had 137 school districts; NC had 115 (Table B-1). That means AL had more districts to monitor.
  • In 2016, AL enrolled about one-half the number of students in public schools as North Carolina (Table B-2). Again, NC has about double the students in school.
  • In 2016, NC had a higher rank of graduation rate from high schools (Table B-4).
  • In 2016, AL had an average teacher salary of $48,518; NC had $47,941 (C-5). That is not adjusted for cost of living. According to the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center, AL is a little more affordable than NC in terms of cost of living in the third quarter of last year (https://www.missourieconomy.org/indicators/cost_of_living/).
  • In 2016, NC had 30,755 total instructional staff members in public institutions of higher learning to AL’s 12,705 (Table C-7). That means we have more institutes of higher learning – lots more. That’s not even considering the private institutions.
  • Total personal income for AL in 2016 ranked 26th; NC ranked 13th (Table D-1 and D-3). People in NC on average made more money.

Those numbers do not help Johnson’s argument that we lack a talent pipeline. We have the human capital and obviously many more places post-secondary education opportunities. We definitely have the talent.

Look at the actual dollars spent reveals a common theme.

  • Pages 60 – 68 chronicle school revenue. In looking at the tables in this section, AL and NC actually align fairly closely. Alabama uses more local funding than North Carolina as NC has a state constitution that is by law supposed to fund at certain levels. But Tables F-7 and F-8 that show something rather startling. Frankly they show that Alabama invests more of its revenue in its schools than North Carolina.
  • And in Table H-5, it shows that AL ranked 21 states (in 2014) ahead of NC when it pertains to “State And Local Govt. Expenditures For All Education As % Of Direct General Expenditures, All Functions.”
  • Table H-8 has AL spending more per-capita for public education in K-12 than NC.
  • Table H-9 shows that AL spent more in 2014 per pupil NC.

Alabama invests more in public schools. They have less money to invest, but still invest more. They invest more in their students, teachers, and “pipelines.”

If Johnson wants to dispute these numbers then he would have to deal with the NEA, and he does not want to do that. He won’t even talk to its North Carolina affiliate, NCAE.

The perspective on EdNC.org that was published directly before Johnson’s was by Ferrel Guillory, a professor of journalism at UNC-CH. It is entitled “A map that colors North Carolina pale.” In it he deftly talks about per-pupil expenditures and what it has done to our state’s ability to service students (https://www.ednc.org/2018/01/12/map-colors-north-carolina-pale/). He shares a map:

nces-image-final-1024x682

Yep, Alabama is a shade darker. Says a lot.

Ironically, Johnson lauds a grant program for “career coaching.”

“We recently awarded $700,000 in Education Workforce Innovation grants. These state funds are supporting career coaches in school districts around the state who will better guide students to find the best post-graduation choice for them.”

$700,000? It could be twice as much if the NC General Assembly didn’t cover Johnson’s court costs in his battle to take more control of the public schools from the state board or hire people only loyal to him who duplicate work already being done.

432

300

More career coaches? How about fighting for more money to hire more GUIDANCE COUNSELORS in public schools. The numbers those warriors deal with are absolutely astronomical. In my school alone, each counselor has nearly 500 students in his/her case load.

If Mark Johnson wants to make the argument that NC lost the Toyota-Mazda mega-plant because of the lack of preparing a talent pipeline, then maybe he should read Guillory’s op-ed first.

Maybe he should fight against a reduction in DPI’s budget.

Maybe he should have helped rally to fund the class size mandate that is being rammed down school systems’ throats.

Maybe he should not advocate for “reforms” that are actually hurting the ability for public schools to even help the “talent pipeline” it already nurtures like unproven vouchers and unregulated charter school growth.

Maybe he should actually do his job and not use public schools as a scapegoat.

When Your State Superintendent Won’t “Rally”‘ For Public Schools

Rally (noun)
1a : a mustering of scattered forces to renew an effort
2: a mass meeting intended to arouse group enthusiasm (merriam-webster.com)

It is the right of every American to come together and peacefully speak out for an issue. What someone rallies for speaks for their interests and values.

When a lawmaker or an elected official attends a rally, it can show his priorities and his loyalties.

Take North Carolina State Superintendent of Public Schools Mark Johnson for instance.

According to the job description of the state superintendent, Johnson is responsible for the “day-to-day” management of the North Carolina public school system. It seems that if anything was to threaten the public school system, then Mark Johnson would be the first to “rally” for the public school system and the students in the public school system.

This past weekend a rally was held in Raleigh at the Halifax Mall of public school advocates calling for a fix to the class size mandate that threatens most public school systems. This unfunded dictate will cause LEA’s to make decisions on what classes must be eliminated and how to navigate certain obstacles on classroom space and teacher allotment.

That rally was to petition Raleigh’s lawmakers to do the right thing. FOR PUBLIC SCHOOLS.

Mark Johnson was not there. Yet a former state superintendent was present, Bob Etheridge. He was rallying for public schools.

Other rallies have been held in recent years for public education dealing with funding and keeping teacher assistants. Mark Johnson was not there for any of those as there are no indications of his attendance. On his personal webpage as state superintendent, Johnson remarks,

…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 (http://www.ncpublicschools.org/statesuperintendent/).

It seems that with this assumed pedigree of public school commitment, Johnson would be the first to rally for public schools – as a teacher, a “leader,” and as a parent.

Yet it has been documented that Mark Johnson has refused to answer inquiries in state board meetings about public school policy which is in essence a chance to “rally” for public schools.

But that does not mean he will not “rally” for people. Take for instance an event on January 23rd.

rally

Johnson will be there. He’s even the keynote speaker. He will rally for charter schools in a state that has gone out of its way to deregulate charter schools, ramp up vouchers, and use taxpayer money to fund those endeavors when no empirical data shows an overall increase in student achievement.

That’s the same taxpayer money that is not now being used for public schools and not being used to actually fund the class size mandate.

Interesting that a man “elected” by the people would rally for school choice but not for traditional public schools where around 90% of the state’s students “choose” to attend school. But it is not surprising.

Why? Because Mark Johnson does not really seem to stand for public schools as much as he “rallies” for private interests and GOP stalwarts in the NC General Assembly. If he disagrees with that statement, then he can come to a rally for public schools and explain himself. He can be more “public” to the “public.” However, his unavailability and his unwillingness to speak up for public schools are becoming more of the rule rather than the exception.

Make no mistake, Mark Johnson is a puppet – a man whose entire experience in teaching and teacher preparation is less than two calendar years and whose only foray into public education policy is an unfinished term on a local school board.

When Johnson said in the last state school board meeting, “I think what the General Assembly is looking for is accountability, accountability for the money that is sent to this department,” what he is implying is, “I work for people on West Jones Street and not the people of the state. (http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2017/12/07/state-board-education-superintendent-mark-johnson-clash-dpi-funding/#sthash.hajrdpLu.hb54ZsZP.dpbs).

He indicated that he only goes to “rallies” that he is told to go to. Even the rally he will attend for school choice is in the legislative building where the General Assembly meets.

So limited is Johnson’s experience in education and politics and so narrow is his vision for what should be done to actually help public schools that his naivety to be used by the General Assembly to carry out their ALEC-inspired agenda has become something of an open secret.

School choice is part of the ALEC agenda.

Of course Mark Johnson would rally for them.

Now, what North Carolina needs to do is rally to change the people in Raleigh in the next election.

NC State Board of Education Vs. Mark Johnson and the Fight to Keep Public Schools “Public”

The North Carolina State Supreme Court has agreed to hear the lawsuit that the State Board of Education has against State Superintendent Mark Johnson.

dpi

Rather it is a lawsuit that the state board has against the certain GOP stalwarts within the NC General Assembly who view Johnson as the perfect puppet to help push through their efforts to expand charter schools and vouchers to private schools.

The State Supreme Court’s decision to hear the case means that it is considered so important that the appeals courts are being bypassed. Simply put, it might be the most important battle in the five-year fight against privatization of the public school system here in North Carolina.

It is a fight to keep the “public” in public education.

Make no mistake, Mark Johnson is a puppet – a man whose entire experience in teaching and teacher preparation is less than two calendar years and whose only foray into public education policy is an unfinished term on a local school board.

When Johnson says in the last state school board meeting, “I think what the General Assembly is looking for is accountability, accountability for the money that is sent to this department,” what he is saying is, “I work for people on West Jones Street and not the people of the state. (http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2017/12/07/state-board-education-superintendent-mark-johnson-clash-dpi-funding/#sthash.hajrdpLu.hb54ZsZP.dpbs).

So limited is Johnson’s experience in education and politics and so narrow is his vision for what should be done to actually help public schools that his naivety to be used by the General Assembly to carry out their ALEC-inspired agenda has become something of an open secret.

Johnson has stated many times that the state board is standing in the way of what he was elected to do by the state’s voters. But what the lawsuit fights against is the power he was granted by the General Assembly after the election within a special session supposedly to address HB2. The general public did not vote for that.

As Kelly Hinchcliffe reported last Friday on WRAL.com, that newly seized power included, “ more flexibility in managing the state’s $10 billion education budget, more authority to dismiss senior level employees and control of the Office of Charter Schools (http://www.wral.com/nc-supreme-court-agrees-to-hear-state-board-s-lawsuit-against-superintendent/17171092/).

Add to that extra money for Johnson to hire people only loyal to him (and the General Assembly) even though it duplicates much of what others in DPI already do who have many times the experience. Add to that extra money to fight the lawsuit against the state board who is left to spend its budget to defend its constitutional right to help govern the public school system. Add to that the fact that DPI’s budget has been slashed by nearly %20 over the next two years without a fight from the person who is supposed to lead DPI.

This “lawsuit” has taken up almost an entire year – and the entirety of Johnson’s tenure as state superintendent, a tenure that has seen absolutely nothing.

An editorial from today’s News & Observer Editorial Board perfectly summed up the current job performance of one Mark Johnson. It stated,

“…Johnson, a hard-right Republican with limited experience in education (he served on a county school board) who’s now building a staff of his very own without much control of the State Board, thanks to hundreds of thousands of dollars in public money for his own use from his friends on Jones Street. And Johnson’s been none too eager to lay out his views on the state of public education very often. For someone who’s supposed to be the face of public education, he’s been a behind-the-scenes leader, taking his instructions apparently from legislative leaders (http://amp.newsobserver.com/opinion/editorials/article189061714.html).

Therefore, this court case about to be heard and decided upon by the State Supreme Court is not just the most important legal decision for the public school system in the last twenty years.

It’s the most important for the next “God knows how many” decades to come.

The New North Carolina State Report Cards And What They Really Show

“The transformation of our public education system will open true pathways out of poverty.”

 – Mark Johnson, September 7th, 2016 from an op-ed entitled “Our American Dream” (https://www.ednc.org/2016/09/07/our-american-dream/).

 

This week State Superintendent of Public Schools Mark Johnson presented a new school report card interface and “updated features” so that the public can view school report cards (https://ncreportcards.ondemand.sas.com/src/index). It has a lot of bells and whistles.

The letter attached to its new release by Johnson seems well-meaning. The text can be found here – http://www.ncpublicschools.org/src/welcome/.

Yet, no matter how much glitter and glam can be used to create an interface that appeals to the eyes, it doesn’t cover up the fact that there really is so much more that makes up a school than a school report card in this state chooses to measure.

Yes, Johnson does make note in his letter that there is more to a school than a “grade.” He states,

“As a former teacher, I can tell you this information, while important, cannot tell you the entire story of a school. These facts and figures cannot voice the extra hours put in by your teachers preparing for class and grading assignments, the school spirit felt by families, the involvement in sports, arts, or other extracurriculars that build character, and other crucial aspects of a school community.”

But the school report cards still do not reflect those very considerations that give a school so much of its identity and define its true outreach to the students and the communities they serve. In fact, that is one of the many glaring items deficiencies that come to mind when reviewing the new interface.

  1. It totally ignores the fact that what affects so many schools is POVERTY.

As soon as one accesses the site, a map of the state is shown.

Picture1

One can then drill down from there. But one has to wonder if there is any measurement of certain socio-economic trends besides the number of kids on free and reduced lunches.

What about the effects of the gerrymandering that has occurred in recent years in the drawing of districts? What about how the unconstitutional VOTER ID law affected how people could vote and put representatives in Raleigh who would fight more for their students?

EdNC.org has a useful tool on its site called the Data Dashboard. You can find it here – https://www.ednc.org/data/.  Take the time to peruse this resource if public education is a top issue for you.

Here is a dot map of the 2014-2015 school performance grade map for the state (https://www.ednc.org/2015/08/03/consider-it-mapped-and-school-grades/) .

Picture2

Take notice of the pink and burgundy dots. Those are schools in the “D” and “F” category.

Now look at a map from the dashboard for Free and Reduced lunch eligibility for the same year.

Picture3

If you could somehow superimpose those two images, you might some frighteningly congruent correlations.

What if that capability was allowed within the new interface of the school report cards?

Now take a look again at the quote from Mark Johnson at the beginning of this posting:

“The transformation of our public education system will open true pathways out of poverty.”

I would argue that addressing poverty outside of class would help students inside of class as much if not more. Besides showing people how many textbooks there are per student (which is probably not correct as school systems are constantly shuffling textbooks around to cover the needs), what about the per capita measurements?

Education can help pull people out of poverty. I will not argue that, but attacking poverty at its root sources will do so much to help education. This revamped site seems to totally ignore that.

And maybe Johnson’s revamped school report site should also include this graph.

Picture4

That is from the 2015–16 Performance and Growth of North Carolina Public Schools Executive Summary, NC DPI.

  1. This site is being used as a way to promote more privatization through the veiled crusade of SCHOOL CHOICE.

Mark Johnson is about “school choice.” He has said so.

Those school performance grades that appear so quickly when one drills down on a district are based on a model developed by Jeb Bush when he was in Florida. It’s disastrous and places a lot of emphasis of achievement scores of amorphous, one-time testing rather than student growth throughout the entire year.

It’s part of the “proficiency versus growth” debate that really came to the forefront during the Betsy DeVos confirmation hearings when she could not delineate between whether test scores are used to measure student “achievement” or student “growth.”

Consider this:

Picture5

Interestingly enough, in the school year 2019-2020, the school performance grade scale will shift from a fifteen-point scale to a ten-point scale. Do you know what that means?

IT WILL BE HARDER FOR PUBLIC SCHOOLS TO QUALIFY AS PASSING. IN FACT, SCHOOLS COULD HAVE A HIGHER PERCENTAGE OF STUDENT GROWTH AND STILL GET A LOWER SCHOOL PERFORMANCE GRADE! AND THE SCHOOL REPORT CARD SITE WILL HIGHLIGHT THAT!

There will be more failing schools. This comes from a legislative body that endorsed the state board last school year to institute a ten-point scale for all high school grading systems to help ensure higher graduation rates, but now shrinks scales for those schools’ performance grades.

This comes from the same legislative body that literally is propping up the very state superintendent who is championing this very site.

Guess what else is happening in 2019-2010? Voucher expansion! From the recent session that gave us our current budget:

SECTION 6.6.(b) G.S. 115C-562.8(b) reads as rewritten: “(b) The General Assembly finds that, due to the critical need in this State to provide opportunity for school choice for North Carolina students, it is imperative that the State provide an increase of funds of at least ten million dollars ($10,000,000) each fiscal year for 10 years to the Opportunity Scholarship Grant Fund Reserve. Therefore, there is appropriated from the General Fund to the Reserve the following amounts for each fiscal year to be used for the purposes set forth in this section: 


Fiscal Year Appropriation

2017-2018 $44,840,000
2018-2019 $54,840,000
2019-2020 $64,840,000
2020-2021 $74,840,000
2021-2022 $84,840,000
2022-2023 $94,840,000
2023-2024 $104,840,000
2024-2025 $114,840,000
2025-2026 $124,840,000
2026-2027 $134,840,000

Bottom line is that this site is helping to fuel the slanted and loaded argument that what this state needs more of is SCHOOL CHOICE! However, what is happening in this state is that “school choice” really is a euphemism for unregulated charter schools and vouchers – neither of which have produced results that show improvement for student achievement.

  1. The site is maintained by SAS.

Look at the web address – https://ncreportcards.ondemand.sas.com/src/. That “sas” represents SAS, the same SAS that controls EVAAS which measures schools by a secret algorithm. That “.com” means it’s maintained by a commercial entity. It gets paid taxpayer money.

Back to Johnson’s letter accompanying the new website:

“We launched the new website, a completely redesigned online resource that provides the transparency you need into the characteristics and performance of your school in an easy-to-use format, to better inform you. I encourage you to follow the link to a school’s individual website to find out more about the school’s full story.”

There’s a word there called “transparency.” EVAAS is the very epitome of not being transparent.

Actually, it is rather mindboggling to think that a measurement which comes from EVAAS is so shrouded in so much opaqueness. With the power to sway school report cards and school performance grades, it would make sense that there be so much transparency in how it calculates its data so that all parties involved would have the ability to act on whatever needs more attention.

And people are literally invited to take action on the data presented by the school report card website. In fact, SAS’s measurement slaps you in the face as soon as you choose a district or school.

Picture6

In fact, if one chooses to look at a district, then all schools are displayed according by color to whether they met growth and with a large letter grade. It’s like they are already being compared against each other when the very makeup of the schools and the obstacles each faces could differ a lot.

Think about what a school report card might not show.

  1. Does the school report card show how successful graduates are in post-secondary educational endeavors like Virginia which has dropped the performance grading system?
  2. Does the school report card consider the viewpoints of the parents whose students are being taught? school report card
  3. Does the school report card consider the viewpoints of the students and how they feel about the learning experience and their security in the school and the classroom?
  4. Does the school report card consider how many students are taking “rigorous” courses?
  5. Does the school report card consider the amount of community service done by students in the school?
  6. Does the school report card consider the strength of the drama department and the quality of the productions?
  7. Does the school report card consider what is seen in the yearbook?
  8. Does the school report card consider the strength of the student newspaper?
  9. Does the school report card consider the strength of the JROTC program?
  10. Does the school report card consider the number of viable clubs and organizations on campus?
  11. Does the school report card consider the amount of scholarship money won by graduating students?
  12. Does the school report card consider the number of student participating in sports?
  13. Does the school report card consider the number of foreign languages offered?
  14. Does the school report card consider the number of students in the Student Section at a game?
  15. Does the school report card consider the number of students who wear spirit wear?
  16. Does the school report card consider the number of students involved in choral and musical endeavors?
  17. Does the school report card consider the number of students who attend summer academic study opportunities?
  18. Does the school report card consider the quality of the artistic endeavors of students through visual and performance arts programs?
  19. Does the school report card consider the strength of programs that hope to help marginalized students?
  20. Does the school report card consider the transient rate of the student body?
  21. Does the school report card consider the poverty levels of the surrounding area that the school services?
  22. Does the school report card consider the number of students who hold jobs?
  23. Does the school report card consider the effect of natural disasters such as hurricanes?
  24. Does the school report card consider the funding levels of the programs?
  25. Does the school report card consider the number of students on 504 plans or IEP’s?
  26. Does the school report card consider the rations of nurses and counselors to students?
  27. Does the school report card consider the class sizes?

Yes, this new interface for the school report cards of NC’s public schools looks modern and it does show data in a more eye-friendly manner, but what it really displays is how unwilling this current crop of policy makers are in confronting what really affects our schools, especially poverty.

It also is proof that Mark Johnson is more interested in the appearance of doing well.

And appearances are deceiving.

 

Survey Monkeys and Publicly Funded Private School Basketball Teams – Mark Johnson’s Search for Wasteful Spending

Today a report from WRAL highlighted Mark Johnson’s declaration that he had found wasteful spending within the Department of Public Instruction.

In “NC superintendent slams ‘disturbing’ spending at state education agency,” Kelly Hinchcliffe begins,

State Superintendent Mark Johnson listened last week as State Board of Education members bemoaned the millions of dollars in recent budget cuts to the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. The cuts have harmed staff and students, one board member explained, and he urged Johnson to join them in reaching out to state lawmakers to say “enough is enough.”

But Johnson declined. Instead, he said in his 11 months as superintendent he has found excessive spending at the state education agency and said he hopes an upcoming $1 million audit he has commissioned will root out any other potential waste at the agency” (https://www.wral.com/nc-superintendent-slams-disturbing-spending-at-state-education-agency/17089497/?version=amp).

Johnson has been asked by the State Board of Education to address the budget cuts to DPI before, particular Greg Alcorn, who asked in October’s meeting for Johnson to address the “elephant in the room.”

That led to some rather pregnant pauses bookended with intentional silence.

This month’s meeting had yet another one of those “standoffs.”

“I brought up these cuts and said, ‘Is there anything we can do to avoid this?’ And this education leader said if the state board and the state superintendent came together to the General Assembly and said, ‘Enough is enough. We can’t serve our students and absorb another cut,’ that would have great weight in the General Assembly,” Davis said. “So I would suggest we take this education leader up on his advice.”

“I would love to talk to that education leader as well,” Johnson responded. “There are many, many different education leaders in the General Assembly that have vastly different opinions. I know that because I’ve been working very closely with all of them. And so, yes, that is a conversation we can have. I’d like to talk to who you talked to.”

Davis tried again.

“Sure. I think this particular advice was keen on that we are together in that request, that we are unified in advocating for the department, that the department can’t absorb any more cuts. It’s important for us to publicly say that,” Davis said.

“I look forward to discussing that with the education leader you discussed it with,” Johnson responded.

“So are we in agreement on avoiding future cuts?” Davis asked.

The superintendent stared straight ahead, not acknowledging Davis’ question, as others in the room laughed nervously at the awkward silence.

Awkward silence.

Johnson did come into the meeting with an example of “wasteful spending” in the form of a few thousand in Survey Monkey plans. That is all good and well, but for a superintendent who is choosing to use surveys as a means of “communicating” with teachers it would help to clarify how those surveys are to be delivered.

In a September 21, 2017 email to all teachers, Mark Johnson’s office sent out its initial survey for teachers in the state.

surveymonkey

It is administered through Survey Monkey. Irony noted.

When pressed for more items of wasteful spending Johnson’s office provided the following (per Hinchcliffe’s report):

  • Extensive conference-related costs, such as:
  • Paying excess rates for conference speakers
  • Large sums for meals and room rentals
  • $25,000 to sponsor World View Symposium held by UNC
  • $2,500 to sponsor one episode of a single-market television program.
  • Overhead charges paid to hire personnel through intergovernmental contracts rather than directly hiring personnel, which would cost DPI less.
  • Reversion of over $15 million in Excellent Public Schools Act funds that could have been used to support early childhood literacy.

And while that might sound good and well, there have been some glaringly wasteful uses of taxpayer money that Johnson has spearheaded that maybe he should also consider in this recent financial purge.

One is this item to finance legal bills for Johnson as he is being sued by his own state board for a power grab.

300

One is the money given to him to hire people when there already existed more knowledgeable education professionals who already fulfilled those roles.

432

And finally, there is the very wasteful spending in the financing of private school basketball teams with public money. Read this gem of a piece of investigative journalism by Lindsay Wagner at the Public School Forum of North Carolina called “Out of Bounds: Embezzlement and Basketball at North Carolina’s Biggest Voucher School” (https://www.ncforum.org/out-of-bounds-embezzlement-and-basketball-at-north-carolinas-biggest-voucher-school/).

Wagner highlights the story of Trinity Christian in Fayetteville who is the top recipient of voucher money in the state but has had a shady past in financial records. In fact,

“Trinity Christian isn’t the only high profile private school basketball program to receive public dollars by way of the state’s school voucher program.

In the Fayetteville Observer story about the rise of Fayetteville’s private school basketball powerhouses, four of the five private schools mentioned have received significant amounts of public funds through vouchers since the program’s inception in 2014.

Fayetteville Christian School follows Trinity Christian with the second highest total public dollars received—$1.15 million over the past three and a half years.

Altogether, the four Fayetteville private schools that house elite basketball programs—Trinity Christian, Freedom Christian, Fayetteville Christian and Northwood Temple—have taken in nearly $4 million in school vouchers since 2014.

As the state’s school voucher program continues to expand rapidly—it is slated to grow from an initial $10 million annual appropriation to $145 million annually by 2026, spending roughly $1 billion in taxpayer dollars over ten years—it is notable that five out of the top ten private school voucher recipients are big players in statewide private school basketball programs.”

What would Johnson say to this? Probably not much because it goes against his narrative.

Besides he is about to hire an associate state superintendent focused on early childhood.

On top of the 23-persson staff already in place in the Office of Early Learning.

Not wasteful at all.

Again, Why We Need Educational Journalists – What is Happening in Florida

orlando

When North Carolina adopted its current school performance grade policy, it was not original. It was taken from Florida where Jeb Bush enacted it as governor.

Apparently, NC has also adopted a proclivity for the use of vouchers and couple that with our state’s deliberate lack of oversight and regulation, we may have another similarity with Florida.

Do not let it be lost on us that journalism may be one of the very things that saves us from our lawmakers, especially the ones who are pouring almost a billion tax payer dollars into the Opportunity Grants over the next decade.

What the Orlando Sentinel did in this series of reports as the product of investigative reporting should be read by all public school advocates.

Simply put, it is spectacular reporting.

http://www.orlandosentinel.com/features/education/os-florida-school-voucher-investigation-1018-htmlstory.html

 

The North Carolina General Assembly’s Greatest Fear – A Well-Educated General Public

(1) General and uniform system: term. The General Assembly shall provide by taxation and otherwise for a general and uniform system of free public schools, which shall be maintained at least nine months in every year, and wherein equal opportunities shall be provided for all students.  – NC State Constitution.

There is one thing that the current powers in the North Carolina General Assembly fear most.

It is not unclean water.
It is not a budget deficit.
It sure as hell isn’t climate change.
It’s not even maps, although all of those weigh in the equation.

It is having a well-educated general public – one that would not allow current lawmakers to be in a position of power to continue to promote an agenda that absolutely favors a few over those they should be helping. And their actions over these last four to five years have been a recipe in ensuring their policies remain intact.

Many of those have been very apparent. There is the current debacle of gerrymandered legislative districts. Even the redrawn maps have shown a more-than-obsessive addiction to hold on to majorities in Raleigh.

There is the voter-ID law that was struck down in the judicial system. A determined effort to water down minority voices might have been one of the most open secrets in this state.

But those unconstitutional actions coincided with other egregious acts that have weakened public education to a breaking point – one that makes next year’s elections so very important. Those actions have been assaults on public schools coated with a layer of propaganda that keeps telling North Carolinians that we need to keep reforming public education.

What once was considered one of the most progressive and strongest public school systems in the South and the nation all of a sudden needed to be reformed? What necessitated that? Who made that decision? Look to the lawmakers who saw public education and the allotted budgeting for public education dictated by the state constitution as an untapped reservoir of money to funnel to private entities.

The public started to see test scores that appeared to be less than desirable even though what was being tested and the format of the testing was in constant flux.

The public started to see “school performance grades” that did nothing more than track how poverty affected student achievement. The “schools were failing” to actually help cover up what lawmakers were refusing to do to help people before they even had a chance to succeed in the classroom.

The teaching profession was beginning to be shaped by a business model that does not discern a public service from a profit minded investment scheme which changed a profession of professionals into one that favors short term contractors.

But there are two large indicators that voters in North Carolina should really pay attention to when it comes to the NCGA’s relentless pursuit to quell their fears of a well-educated general public – money spent per pupil and tuition costs to state supported universities.

Below is one of many different data tables that shows how willfully the NCGA has made sure to keep public schools from thriving (from  the NC Justice Center’s July 2016 analysis).

Inflation-Adjusted-2

And how that per pupil expenditure truly affects schools becomes even clearer when you read reporting that clearly shows how funds are used (and stretched) by school systems. Take Kris Nordstrom’s piece entitled “As new school year commences, shortage of basic supplies demonstrates legislature’s failure to invest” (http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2017/08/29/new-school-year-commences-shortage-basic-supplies-demonstrates-legislatures-failure-invest/).

This table should be easy to decipher.

supplies

Simply put, this is a great example of truth-telling and an equally fantastic exposure of the very fear that the NCGA has of thriving public schools. Nordstrom states,

“When adjusting for enrollment and inflation, school funding has been cut in the following areas since leadership of the General Assembly switched hands in 2010 (a time period in which the state was already struggling to find resources as a result of the Great Recession): classroom teachers, instructional support personnel (counselors, nurses, librarians, etc.), school building administrators (principals and assistant principals), teacher assistants, transportation, low wealth schools, disadvantaged students, central office, limited English proficiency, academically gifted, small counties, driver training, and school technology. Funding streams for teacher professional development and mentoring of beginning teachers have been eliminated completely.”

  • Don’t we have a state surplus?
  • Don’t we spend millions on validate vouchers that have shown no improvement in student outcome?
  • Don’t we spend millions in legal fees defending laws that are unconstitutional?

The answer is “YES” to all of these.

Remember, our lawmakers are bragging that we are economically thriving. So who is profiting?

The Pew Research Center for U.S. Politics & Policy conducted a national survey on the attitudes on whether higher education has had a positive or negative effect on our country (http://www.people-press.org/2017/07/10/sharp-partisan-divisions-in-views-of-national-institutions/). It’s rather disturbing.

More disturbing is that it is not surprising.

PP_17.06.30_institutions_lede_party

While one might think that Joel Osteen’s recent antics to protect his tax exempt megachurch from actually serving the Houston public in a Christ-like fashion would change the first set of data points, it is the last category that is the focus here.

Inside Higher Ed highlighted the Pew survey. Paul Fain in his report opened up with this:

“In dramatic shift, more than half of Republicans now say colleges have a negative impact on the U.S., with wealthier, older and more educated Republicans being least positive” (https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2017/07/11/dramatic-shift-most-republicans-now-say-colleges-have-negative-impact).

Might want to see who controls policy in Raleigh.

And those “wealthier, older, and more educated Republicans” who are in control in Raleigh have also enabled state-supported colleges and universities to become more expensive.

At the beginning of this year, WUNC published a report called “Incoming UNC Students Likely To See Tuition Increase” (http://wunc.org/post/incoming-unc-students-likely-see-tuition-increase#stream/0). In it there is a data table that shows the steady and steep increase in tuition costs for UNC undergraduate resident tuition.

tution_increases_through_the_years

And yes, we are still a bargain compared to other states, but that is an over 70% increase that does not include housing, board, food, supplies, books, travel, and all of the other expenses sure to accompany a college experience.

Is it supposed to make sense that rising tuition costs should accompany lower per-pupil expenditure in public secondary schools all the while boasting of a state surplus in a state that currently has racially gerrymandered legislative districts and an increased investment in a rather robust effort to privatize public schools?

Apparently “yes” to many in Raleigh.

Which is why they say “no” so often to people.

Don’t Mistake My “Exaggeration” For Your Active Ignorance – A Somewhat Rational Response to the John Locke Foundation

Reading educational perspectives from John Hood and the John Locke Foundation is like opening a letter with a nice stamp, a handwritten address, and some hearts drawn on the outside.

Yet, once you open it up, what falls out is nothing but glitter. No letter. Nothing really of substance. Just a mess on the floor that requires cleaning.

But I know that I will still open any letters from John Hood and the John Locke Foundation because as a public school activist, those letters will inevitably revalidate that I am on the right side of the school choice argument.

Hood’s latest missive on school choice appears in EdNC.org’s Perspective section. It is entitled “Exaggeration won’t stop school choice” (https://www.ednc.org/2017/07/31/exaggeration-wont-stop-school-choice/).

Its tone is condescending and entitled. Its substance is watery. And its covert claim of taking the moral “high road” in the debate over school choice in NC smells of garbage juice. Consider the final line of his op-ed.

“Let’s calm down and discuss this rationally.”

For a man who fronts organizations founded and led by Art Pope, the idea of having a rational conversation on public issues in this arena is like walking into a dialogue with someone who will only allow you one word for every sentence he says and who will not allow you to present evidence because it may actually refute any nebulous claims he makes.

But he will smile and shake your hand as if you are on the same side.

John Locke as a philosopher embraced empiricism, practicality, and strong observation. And while Mr. Hood loves using the word “empiricism” and “empirical” to define his “proof” he offers in this instance another lofty, general, glittering, and amorphous claim that what North Carolina has done to reform public education is strongly beneficial.

And it is beneficial – for those who are seeking to make a profit like Art Pope.

But Mr. Hood did offer to discuss this rationally, so here are some claims that he makes and that I will “rationally” refute.

  1. During the 2016-17 academic year, nearly one out of five North Carolina children were educated in settings other than district-run public schools. In Wake County and some other urban areas, the percentage was even higher.

He is right on both counts. Also, it needs to be noted that over one out of five North Carolina children live in poverty. And while Wake County has a higher percentage of students in non-public school settings, it might be worth noting that the budget shortfall for funding the public schools in Wake County is one of the more well-known shortfalls in the state as far as supporting public schools. Just do a little research.

  1. To opponents of parental choice in education, the trend signifies an elaborate plot to destroy public schools by denigrating their accomplishments and funding their competition. To other North Carolinians, the rising share of children attending charter, private, or home schools simply reflects the fact that more opportunities are available, more families are exploring them, and the state’s education sector is becoming more diverse, innovative, and parent-friendly.

Actually, a “rational” person could look at what has happened in the past five years in NC and see that there really is a dismantling of public education. Look at the money that is being used to fund charters, vouchers, and other “reforms” that have no “empirical evidence” showing that they are successful.

Just take a look at this : https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2016/05/18/the-assault-on-public-education-in-north-carolina-just-keeps-on-coming/. That’s an elaborate plot.

Of course other North Carolinians might see “school choice” as a road to more opportunities but is it really offering a more “diverse, innovative, and parent-friendly” experience?

Not really.

Today the News & Observer had an editorial entitled “The hidden cost of vouchers” (http://amp.newsobserver.com/opinion/editorials/article165488352.html). All North Carolinians should read this.

It states,

When they passed the ill-conceived program to hand taxpayers’ money to lower-income people to pay for private schools for their children, Republican lawmakers didn’t bother to point out the fine print – that the $4,200 maximum might not cover expenses such as food and transportation. And it also doesn’t cover the full tuition of private schools, many of which are church-affiliated…

There’s a cynical side to this entire program as well. Yes, the $4,200 can cover a lot of expense at small church schools, for example, but wealthy Republicans aren’t going to see any of the Opportunity Scholarship recipients in the state’s most exclusive private schools, the ones that cater to wealthy families. Tuition in those schools is often $20,000 and above.

Parents with kids in public schools where arts and physical education programs are threatened, where the best teachers are leaving the profession to earn a better living, might point directly to Republicans in the General Assembly as the culprits. This voucher program was little more than a slap at public schools, which Republicans have targeted since taking control of the General Assembly in 2011. It is a bad idea that is getting worse, and getting more expensive, and the only positive in it is in the eye of the beholder – private school enrollment has gone up since the program started.

Would Mr. Hood like to rationally refute this?

The op-ed in the N&O also references an NC State study led by Anna Egalite which offers some rather “empirical” data that seems to take Mr. Hood’s claims and send them back for reconsideration (https://news.ncsu.edu/2017/07/nc-state-research-explores-how-private-schools-families-make-voucher-decisions/). It too is worth the read.

Kris Nordstrom, education finance and policy consultant for the N.C. Justice Center’s Education and Law Project, is also quoted in the N&O op-ed. I am willing to bet my salary as it would have been if the General Assembly had not messed with the schedule I saw when I came into the profession that Nordstrom is much more educated in current public education issues than Mr. Hood and could offer more “rational” perspectives on the issue of school choice – calmly or otherwise.

  1. I’m in the latter camp, obviously. I’ve advocated school choice programs for three decades. My parents, former public-school educators, were supporters of the idea throughout their careers and influenced me greatly on the subject. If you disagree, I probably won’t be able to convince you in a single column about the merits of charter school expansion or opportunity scholarships. But I will offer this observation: exaggerating the case against school choice isn’t doing you or the public any favors.

No, Mr. Hood will not convince me. But if he thinks that what is being offered by myself or other public school advocates is exaggeration, then I would claim that Mr. Hood is compressing and ignoring the truth because he never refutes the evidence offered by public school advocates. In fact, he never offers any proof that vouchers and charters are showing evidence of high student achievement here in North Carolina.

Mr. Hood says that he has “good reasons, both theoretical and empirical” for his claims. What are they? Where is the data from North Carolina? The only time I have heard a “pro-school choice” official mentioning even talking about empirical evidence as far as North Carolina’s reforms are concerned actually helping low-income students.

Lindsay Wagner’s latest piece for the AJ Fletcher Foundation entitled “Are publicly-funded private school vouchers helping low-income kids? We don’t know” raises a rather glaring inconsistency when it comes to whether vouchers are really helping low-income students.

The leader of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina, Darrell Allison, said recently that school vouchers aren’t likely to hurt children from low-income households who use them. But he couldn’t say definitively that the voucher program actually helps these children, either.

Why? Because despite the fact that North Carolina spends millions of taxpayers’ dollars each year on vouchers, we have no meaningful data that can tell us if this is an effective way to help poor students who deserve a high quality education (http://ajf.org/publicly-funded-private-school-vouchers-helping-low-income-kids-dont-know/).

Doesn’t sound like empirical data to me. Sounds like avoiding the actual debate. I would also like to see Mr. Hood explain his point of view in reference to the NAACP’s recent call for a charter school moratorium.

Hood1

Or, what is found in this report: https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/federal-study-of-dc-voucher-program-finds-negative-impact-on-student-achievement/2017/04/27/e545ef28-2536-11e7-bb9d-8cd6118e1409_story.html?utm_term=.e45590a4a1db.

It states:

“Students in the nation’s only federally funded school voucher initiative performed worse on standardized tests within a year after entering D.C. private schools than peers who did not participate, according to a new federal analysis that comes as President Trump is seeking to pour billions of dollars into expanding the private school scholarships nationwide.

The study, released Thursday by the Education Department’s research division, follows several other recent studies of state-funded vouchers in Louisiana, Indiana and Ohio that suggested negative effects on student achievement. Critics are seizing on this data as they try to counter Trump’s push to direct public dollars to private schools.”

Or even this report from the NY Times: “Dismal Voucher Results Surprise Researchers as DeVos Era Begins” (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/23/upshot/dismal-results-from-vouchers-surprise-researchers-as-devos-era-begins.html).

  1. Elementary and secondary education is becoming more like the rest of the education sector, and more like a health care sector that features lots of taxpayer funding but a diverse array of public, private, and nonprofit hospitals and other providers.

Actually, Mr. Hood is right in this respect when he compares public education to health care. Just look at the refusal to extend Medicaid for the very families who would qualify for vouchers and you see how the refusal to fully fund public schools only makes matters unhealthier.

  1. There is an impressive body of empirical evidence suggesting that as district-run public schools face more competition, their students tend to experience gains in test scores and attainment as school leaders rise to the challenge.

There’s that word again – “empirical.” Funny how public education works really well when it is collaborative rather than competitive, but it is worth mentioning that in a state that routinely has principal pay ranked around 50th in the nation, actually keeping school leaders is an obstacle created by the very people who brought us reform.

  1. And because the state’s choice programs are targeted at disabled and lower-income kids, the enrollment changes wouldn’t represent some kind of neo-segregationist conspiracy.

Apparently, Mr. Hood didn’t read this:

Hood2

He could just confer with Lt. Dan Forrest on its contents.

Or maybe he hasn’t fully digested this (which was sent to me, but I cannot verify its source, so if you find it, please let me know):

Hood3

The last statement before he offers the “Let’s calm down and discuss this rationally” conclusion, Mr. Hood says, “Competition improves performance.”

When the North Carolina General Assembly stops gerrymandering districts and enabling policies that seem to be ruled unconstitutional like Voter ID laws then the playing field might be leveled somewhat.

Then Mr. Hood might see how the performance of his op-ed and its baseless claims really offer no competition to the truth.

 

A Third-Person Open Letter to Darrell Allison and the PEFNC – Why Hide Behind the Ambiguity?

Lindsay Wagner’s latest piece for the AJ Fletcher Foundation entitled “Are publicly-funded private school vouchers helping low-income kids? We don’t know” showcases one of the primary redundancies purposefully used by funded “school choice” advocates in the quest to make sure that the best way to argue for “freedom in choosing schools” in North Carolina is to control what information parents have in “choosing” educational avenues for their students.

In short, it is easier to hail school choice as a viable means of giving parents freedom as long as what they know about the choices can be controlled.

Wagner focuses much of her article on the most vocal proponent of the school choice movement in North Carolina – Darrell Allison, the leader of PEFNC (Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina).

To say that he is the most influential non-law maker on educational reform in the state is not a stretch; his recent appointment to the UNC Board of Governors and his ability to lobby lawmakers in Raleigh certainly gives him more clout than most pro-public school legislators on West Jones Street.

Wagner raises a rather glaring inconsistency when it comes to whether vouchers are really helping low-income students.

The leader of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina, Darrell Allison, said recently that school vouchers aren’t likely to hurt children from low-income households who use them. But he couldn’t say definitively that the voucher program actually helps these children, either.

Why? Because despite the fact that North Carolina spends millions of taxpayers’ dollars each year on vouchers, we have no meaningful data that can tell us if this is an effective way to help poor students who deserve a high quality education (http://ajf.org/publicly-funded-private-school-vouchers-helping-low-income-kids-dont-know/).

What Wagner is referring to is the PEFNC’s official reaction to a Duke University report on the Opportunity Grants that contained a flawed conclusion that was later corrected but did not really diminish the results. As Billy Ball reported on July 14th,

The Duke report, released in March by the school’s Children’s Law Clinic, initially suggested the state’s voucher recipients were not performing as well as their public school peers, although the university later edited that portion, arguing instead that the state lacks sufficient data to draw that conclusion (http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2017/07/14/school-choice-advocates-blast-duke-voucher-report-flawed/#sthash.76QLNaKS.dpbs).

However, the corrected statement by the Duke study team coupled with PEFNC’s statement still gives every indication that people like Darrell Allison do not want to adequately measure how well voucher recipients are performing compared to their public school peers.

“The bottom line is this: We do not yet know how most scholarship students in North Carolina are performing on nationally standardized tests, and we do not know how scholarship students compare to other low-income students not using scholarships,” the group’s paper states.

That refutation from Allison and his cohort is weak. It’s saying that in the three-plus years the state of North Carolina has enacted the Opportunity Grant program and expanded it greatly, it does not really know if it is working.

Allison is claiming victory in the ambiguity. And it is the ambiguity that he wants to remain in the forefront to cloud what really may be the truth: that voucher recipients are not doing as well.

That’s opaque transparency with lots of tax-payer money which is siphoning the resources of traditional public schools which service a vast majority of the low-income students that Allison and PEFNC claim to be helping.

Wagner comments about how hard it is to actually get student achievement data concerning voucher recipients.

… only 11 percent of all voucher schools (that’s 34 schools if you’re counting) were required to publicize their students’ test results at the end of 2016. How students fared at nearly 300 other private voucher schools in North Carolina is unknown…

That’s ridiculous. That’s ludicrous. That’s egregious.

Almost a billion dollars has been set aside in the next decade to fund a program which Allison and PEFNC gleefully defend against Duke’s study as something that is not even measurable. But there is a reason that it is not measureable.

Wagner noted that “Efforts were made this past legislative session to require all voucher schools to use just one national test so that, ultimately, parents can make more of an informed choice—but those efforts failed.

Why did those efforts fail? God knows with as much back-door dealing in this last session of the NC General Assembly, this “failed effort” was craftily thwarted by those who want vouchers to remain in North Carolina. Would it be too far of a stretch to think that Allison and PEFNC lobbied for that “effort” to fail?

No, because it would have removed any doubt as to whether voucher recipients were doing as well as their public school peers. But if there is any indication that they were not, then the voucher program would be shown to be a “failed effort” in and of itself.

So, “in this context, one must wonder how a parent is supposed to know whether or not a private voucher school is a good choice for his or her child.”

This past week, NC State released a research study entitled “NC State Research Explores How Private Schools, Families Make Voucher Decisions” that explored perceptions of families of voucher recipients (https://news.ncsu.edu/2017/07/nc-state-research-explores-how-private-schools-families-make-voucher-decisions/).

Some very curious observations came out that could use a little explanation from Allison and the PEFNC to shed some light on what the voucher program is actually doing.

Consider:

IMG_5490

And…

IMG_5489

And..

IMG_5488

That’s not flattering because it can easily be concluded that what vouchers are doing is not allowing for “low-income students” to actually attend reputable private schools because those schools cost lots of money. Private schools are not non-profit entities. They cost money for a reason.

Secondly, students who did use voucher monies tended to already be behind the academic curve. To bring those students up-to-par would require remediation or it may be symptomatic of the fact that many of these students may have come from under-resourced public schools.

And if 71% of parents thought their kids were safer, it may be indicative of the lack of personnel and lack of support the traditional public schools receive. Most private schools are smaller and have lower teacher: student ratios.

But that racial diversity satisfaction percentage? That’s not encouraging if you investigate the socioeconomics of the almost %20 of school age kids in the state.

If most of the recipients of vouchers do not go to proven academic private schools or remain there (over 90% of recipients go to a religious school), and if you negate the ability to actually measure how well academically these voucher recipients are doing compared to public school students all the while slashing funds for DPI and not fully funding existing schools, then it is hard to say that there is really freedom of choice occurring.

Darrell Allison knows that.

If he is certain that voucher recipients are receiving a better education, then he should be the first to push for efforts to accurately measure achievement levels between voucher recipients and public school students.

The fact that he is not and has not for the last few years certainly indicates a willingness to control what many think is a “freedom of choice.”