Archives for category: North Carolina

Gene Nichol is Boyd Tinsley Distinguished Professor at the University of North Carolina. He writes here of the desperate situation that his state is in.


A few key statements summarize the article:



“North Carolina has been converted from an occasionally progressive island of the New South to the American Legislative Exchange Council’s most faithful and fevered servant


“Let’s be candid that the dismantling of public education is a principal, unrelenting goal of our General Assembly


“Nothing – not our air, our water, our seacoast, our mountains, not even our children’s health – seems to trump the claimed possibilities of profit”


Nichol writes:


“The Republican General Assembly has struck a dramatic new course for North Carolina. The Tar Heel State has been converted from an occasionally progressive island of the New South to the nation’s spearhead of political conservatism. The American Legislative Exchange Council’s most faithful and fevered servant. There can no longer be sensible doubt about the path laid out for us….


“Shall we abandon North Carolina’s historic, enabling and almost visceral commitment to public education? The commitment that, more than any other, has worked to separate us from much of the South. Do we mean to allow this jettison? Can’t we at least be candid that the dismantling of public education is a principal, unrelenting goal of our General Assembly? Or are all the vouchers, charters, budget cuts, wrenching salary limitations, tenure and teaching assistant eliminations, rhetorical attacks and constantly pronounced school failures actually meant to accomplish something else? When we settle in to the lowest funding regime among the 50 states, will we still boast a proud dedication to learning?


“▪ What of our obligation of stewardship to the wonders and majesties of North Carolina? We seem hell-bent on an increasingly consumptive and exploitative relationship to the state’s unparalleled natural environment. As if literally nothing – not our air, our water, our seacoast, our mountains, not even our children’s health – can trump the claimed possibilities of profit. We seem enthusiastic to prove we’ll embrace risk that others renounce – with fracking, offshore drilling, coal ash, agricultural waste, the dismantling of DEQ, the “see no evil” rejection of climate science. Hubris replaces reverence. Recklessness swamps conservancy.


“▪ To put it crudely, how long will we embrace the role of greedy bully? Though we have among the nation’s highest rates of poverty, child poverty, concentrated poverty, hunger, economic immobility and income inequality, our most consistent policy agenda has been to limit the benefits and raise the taxes of the impoverished to bestow even greater accumulations of wealth on the rich. As if it were no longer thought hideous to deploy power and privilege to pilfer from the poor.


“Our leaders have acted with energy and clarity to implement their values. Are their standards actually our own?”


Professor Nichol’s brief tally of the pillaging of the public sector explains why the Network for Public Education is holding its national conference in Raleigh on April 15-17. We will be there to stand in solidarity with educators and parents as they face the depredations of a mean and low legislature, determined to crush public schools in North Carolina and stamp out opposition.



Please join us as we rally with and for our friends in what was once an enlightened state

Stuart Egan teaches AP high school English and Shakespeare in North Carolina. He has great interest in how words are used and he teaches his students to understand rhetoric. Thus, he has puzzled over the current use of the word “reform.”


In the customary usage, “reform” means to improve. In the current usage, it means to make changes that lead to profits for a few. He shows here how language can be used to awaken the public to the sham of “reform” and to the need to restore education to its real purposes.


He tries here to reclaim the meaning of the word “reform.”


He writes:


2016 is a huge year. With many veteran GOP legislators not seeking reelection and a surely contested gubernatorial race, we in North Carolina have an opportunity to add our own meanings to words in the dictionary used in Raleigh. Here are just a few that alphabetically appear on the same pages as “reform.”


Recommit – to pledge to fully fund public schools so they are not lacking for resources or personnel
Redact – to edit legislation that has previously negatively impacted public schools
Redeem – to transfer monies given to for-profit virtual schools and frivolous charter schools back to public schools
Rediscover – to again realize that our state constitution mandates our government fully fund public schools
Refrain – to keep from placing politics and personalities before students’ well-being
Reinvigorate – to give more voice to teachers and educators in school improvement initiatives as they are the people in the classrooms
Renew – to place a new focus on student progress rather than arbitrary test scores
Replace – to exchange current systems of testing and evaluation protocols with ones that truly measure teacher effectiveness and student progress
Respect – to value teachers with both monetary compensation and freedom to do their jobs
Restore – to bring back due process rights and graduate pay for new teachers
Resurrect – to bring back the North Carolina Teaching Fellows and stimulate more growth in our collegiate education programs
Revise – to review how the General Assembly is allowed to craft bills and legislation behind closed doors without proper debate
Revitalize – to allow our school system to have the power and right to make improvements as they see fit
Revive – to focus on all traditional public schools and their health before haphazardly constructing superfluous charter schools and virtual campuses
Revoke (two definitions) – a: to cancel and annul reactionary legislative acts that are simply repackaged, unproven educational alterations which recycle and reinstitute unproven practices that lead to a relapse of regression and regret and rely on resources created by for-profit companies which remove the importance of the teacher in the classroom and reject what educational researchers have identified as vital to the health of public education (shortened definition); b: to take away the legislative power of those who have harmed public education by electing legislators in 2016 who have public education’s best interests in mind.
And that’s just words that begin with “re.”



As the campaign commercials and advertisements become more frequent and riddled with political spin and stretched truths, just remember that the meanings of words can be manipulated like “reform” and that innocuous slogans like “Carolina Comeback” can be misleading.


In these next 10 months, visit your local public schools, ask teachers, parents, and students what obstacles could be removed to improve conditions and vote for those candidates in November who are willing to remove those impediments.



A few days ago, I wrote a post about the determination of North Carolina’s Tea-Party dominated legislature to allow charters, including for-profit ones, to take over low-scoring schools, a proposal modeled on Tennessee’s Achievement School District. My post was a refutation of an editorial in the Charlotte Observer, which endorsed the idea of using the ASD as a model for North Carolina. My post was titled “North Carolina: Yes, Let’s Copy a Failed Experiment.” Pamela Grundy, a public school champion in North Carolina, also complained to the newspaper and proposed that NC should try reducing class sizes.


The author of the editorial, Peter St. Onge, is associate editor of the editorial pages. He didn’t like my post at all. He says that the Tennessee ASD has not failed; it hasn’t had enough time. This follows on a Vanderbilt report about the ASD that concluded the program had “little or no effect” on student achievement. (Here is the link to the report.) NPR summarized the finding of the Vanderbilt study thus:


While there were some changes year-to-year — up and down — there was no statistical improvement on the whole, certainly not enough to catapult these low-performing schools into some of the state’s best, which was the lofty goal.


St. Onge says the Vanderbilt study didn’t say the experiment failed, it just hasn’t succeeded yet. That is true. The Vanderbilt study did not propose closing down the ASD; it said reform takes years. But please recall that Chris Barbic, who led the ASD, said he could turn around the lowest-performing schools in five years and make them among the state’s highest-performing schools. Clearly that will not happen. Of course, a child attends an elementary school for only four-six years, so they can’t wait ten years. So if we take the original promise of the ASD, it will fail to reach its goal of turning low-performing schools into high-performing schools in five years.


One of the lead researchers in the Vanderbilt study, Professor Gary Henry, was in North Carolina this week, where he spoke to a public policy forum. The legislature happened to be holding hearings on the NC version of ASD, but Professor Henry was not invited to testify. Why didn’t the legislature want to hear from him? He told the forum that the model sponsored by the public schools, called the iZone, had significant improvements, but the ASD did not. He said the study was based on only three years of data, so cautioned not to jump to conclusions.


So, yes, Peter St. Onge is right. It is too soon to declare the ASD a failure. But it is certainly not a success. Usually, when you look to copy a model tried elsewhere, you copy a successful model. Why should the state of North Carolina copy a model that has thus far shown little to no significant effects and has not shown success? A track record like that of the ASD does not lend itself to being called “a model.” A model for what? For throwing millions into an experiment that alienates parents and communities and after three years has little to no effect on student achievement?


When Chris Barbic resigned as leader of the ASD, following a heart attack, he made a statement boasting about gains that included this interesting observation:


Let’s just be real: achieving results in neighborhood schools is harder than in a choice environment. I have seen this firsthand at YES Prep and now as the superintendent of the ASD. As a charter school founder, I did my fair share of chest pounding over great results. I’ve learned that getting these same results in a zoned neighborhood school environment is much harder.


This is a sage observation. A brand new charter school can choose its students. Even with a lottery, the families are applying and informed and motivated. That is very different from taking over a neighborhood school, where parents resent that their school was “taken over” by outsiders without their consent. Charter schools have been notoriously unsuccessful at taking over neighborhood schools. KIPP, for example, took over Cole Middle School in Denver, and abandoned it a few years later. KIPP claimed it couldn’t find “the right leader,” but the reality is what Barbic said. It is much harder to take over an existing school than to start a new charter.


The Charlotte Observer, or more accurately, Mr. St. Onge, scorns those he calls “public education advocates” as if all those in favor of the model in which the public is responsible for the education of all children are self-interested and impervious to evidence. I think it is fair to say that in the North Carolina climate, those who promote charters are self-interested and impervious to evidence. The charter operators are in many cases operating for-profit, which is certainly not the motive of public education advocates. Those who claim that the ASD is a worthy model for North Carolina, despite its lack of success, are impervious to evidence.


If you can’t call the ASD a failure, you surely can’t call it a success. As the subtitle of the editorial states, “Judging Should Be Based on What Works.” We agree. Children should not be subjected to experiments that do not have a track record of success. Do what works, based on evidence and experience. Reduce class sizes where there is concentrated poverty and segregation; recognize that poverty and segregation are root causes of poor school performance and act to address root causes; make sure there are school nurses and social workers; make sure there is a library; hire experienced teachers, with school aides. Add classes in the arts. Give poor children what all parents want for their children. If you want to see the research base, read my book “Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools.” Or closer to home, call Helen F. Ladd at Duke University and get her advice.









NC Policy Watch reports that legislation is advancing that would permit for-profit charter operators to take over the state’s lowest-performing schools, the great majority of them in low-income minority communities. The models for the takeover is the Tennessee Achievement School District, the Michigan Educational Achievement Authority, and the elimination of public schools in New Orleans. However, sponsors of the legislation say that the North Carolina would be the same only different. It would be done the North Carolina way.


N.C. Rep. Rob Bryan, the Republican from Mecklenburg County who chairs the committee and the leading proponent for achievement school districts in the legislature, said that the districts—pioneered, to mixed results in states like Louisiana, Michigan and Tennessee—could be phased into North Carolina as soon as the 2017-2018 academic year.


“We are neither Tennessee, nor are we New Orleans,” said Bryan. “But what I’m looking to do here is do what’s right for North Carolina.”


Bryan authored a much-discussed draft of legislation last year that would have funneled five of the state’s lowest-performing elementary schools into the state-controlled achievement districts as a pilot program, although the notion did not gain any significant traction during the General Assembly’s long budget debates last summer.


The draft Bryan unveiled Wednesday had few differences from last year’s prospective bill, potentially ceding the power to hire and fire teachers and administrators to private, for-profit charter leaders. Pilot schools would be placed into a special state-run district, with a superintendent chosen by the State Board of Education who would have the power to negotiate operation contracts with private companies, effectively seizing control from local school boards.


The charter operators would be expected to help turn around academic performance in the schools.


As N.C. Policy Watch reported last year, lobbying for the movement was financed by Oregon millionaire and conservative private school backer John Bryan (no relation to Rep. Rob Bryan).


One of the researchers at Vanderbilt who studied the Tennessee ASD model and found it ineffective was in town to speak to a public education group about his study, but the legislative committee did not invite him to address them about what his group learned.


The state superintendent said that the public schools should lead any turnaround effort; the Tennessee study from Vanderbilt showed that the iZone schools, created and led by the public schools, outperformed the ASD charter schools:


“I believe that the taxpayers of North Carolina would get a better return on their investments by going with a model that has proven positive results,” North Carolina Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson told N.C. Policy Watch Tuesday.


To Atkinson, that means pursuing public school-led initiatives, offering low-performing schools greater support, access to preschool programs and more flexible calendar years.


As Atkinson points out, students in low-performing schools can lose two to three months of reading development during traditional schools’ summer break.


“We have to address these root causes or we’ll continue to have these conversations 10 years from now,” said Atkinson.


And then there was a startling statement, startling because it was plain common sense, which has been in rare supply since 2010 in North Carolina:


Meanwhile, Rep. Ed Hanes Jr., a Democrat from Forsyth County, blasted state officials during Wednesday’s committee meeting for failing to do enough to address the societal and economic causes of low-performing schools.


As Barbour pointed out Wednesday, low-performing schools in the state are disproportionately serving low-income and minority children.


“It sounds like a lot of talk,” said Hanes. “It sounds like we don’t really dig into what the real issues are. … And it sounds to me like we really don’t care a whole lot about poor people.”

Despite the documented failure of the Tennessee Achievement District, the Charlotte Observer thinks it is worth a try to copy the same model in North Carolina. In Tennessee, the ASD was created to take over neighborhood public schools that rated in the lowest 5% in the state based on test scores and give them to charter operators. Within five years, starting in 2012, those charter schools would rank in the top 25% in the state. But the ASD schools are not on track to show any improvement.


Gary Rubinstein demonstrated that four of the original six schools in the ASD remained in the bottom 5%, while the other two are in the bottom 6%.


A recent Vanderbilt study concluded that the ASD schools were ineffective, although they held out hope that they might get better over time.


Ron Zimmer of Vanderbilt said the study showed that the district’s own innovative public schools outperformed the charters:


Zimmer’s team, which was asked by the state to keep tabs on progress from the outset, zoomed in on test data more closely than the typical measures of “below basic” and “proficient.” While there were some changes year-to-year — up and down — there was no statistical improvement on the whole, certainly not enough to catapult these low-performing schools into some of the state’s best, which was the lofty goal.


“It may be a little disappointing to those who were advocating for the Achievement School District that we haven’t seen better results at this point,” Zimmer says.


The Vanderbilt researchers found more encouraging results with the turnaround efforts known as iZones led by local districts in Memphis and Nashville.


Chalkbeat Tennessee stressed that if the state wants real improvement, it should look to the iZone model run by the Shelby County public schools.


Days before the Tennessee Achievement School District is to announce whether it will take over five more Memphis schools next year, Vanderbilt has released a study suggesting the city’s low-performing schools would be better off in Shelby County Schools’ Innovation Zone.
The study, released Tuesday, shows that iZone schools have sizeable positive effects on student test scores, while the ASD’s effects are marginal. That means that students at ASD schools are performing mostly at the same low levels they likely would have had their school not been taken over by the state-run school turnaround district.


A little over a year ago, two Metro Nashville school board members complained that the ASD (which now manages 27 charter schools) wanted to take over one of Nashville’s high-performing public schools as a way of boosting ASD’s lackluster performance. Parents were outraged, as they were in many of the other takeover schools.


While the charter movement is allegedly predicated on parental “choice,” that choice seems to vanish when appointed ASD officials decide to impose a charter school on a community. The ASD is pushing forward despite protests by parents, teachers, community members, a variety of elected officials from the community (including current and former school board members), and even the MNPS Director of Schools.


Why, under these circumstances, would the ASD insist upon a hostile takeover of Neely’s Bend when other local schools clearly require more attention? The answer is simple: The ASD is trying to save itself. It has cherry-picked a school to boost its own dismal performance. This is a prime example of a government bureaucracy attempting to justify its own existence.


Although originally conceived as something very different, the ASD has become a way for state officials to hand over neighborhood schools to charter operators. This has not proven to be an effective solution. Despite higher per pupil expenditures (the exact amount has not been revealed), the ASD is underperforming. In Memphis, where nearly all ASD schools are located, district-operated schools outpace ASD schools, and, in fact, the ASD overall showed negative growth in every single subject area in 2014.


The ASD did take over Neely’s Bend, and just last month the Black Caucus in the Legislature called for a halt to ASD expansion because of community opposition and no results.


Why should North Carolina adopt a model that has shown no results? What is it about failure that the Charlotte Observer editorial board likes? Why not adopt proven practices that strengthen public schools–like reducing class size, adding a health clinic– instead of handing them over to privately operated charters?









Margaret Spellings, who will assume the presidency of the University of North Carolina system in March, will begin with a report from the Boston Consulting Group. The management consultants are known for their dedication to privatization and profit. They were advisors in the project that led to the elimination of public schools and teachers’ unions inNew Orleans. Spellings served as their education advisor after her stint as Secretary of Education in the administration of George W. Bush. In that administration, she was one of the architects of No Child Left Behind.


Although Spellings lacks any scholarly credentials (she received a bachelor’s degree at the University of Houston), she should be an effective fundraiser among wealthy conservative benefactors. Since ideological donors often give with strings attached, UNC faculty will have to be wary.


The faculty is not at all pleased. They know what is coming down the pike: NCLB at UNC, data-driven management, corporate reform, cost-cutting, job training. Will academic freedom be respected? Stay tuned.

The leader of the North Carolina Charter Association, one Lee Teague, referred to the report on charters by the state’s Department of Public Instruction as “garbage,” because it cited the study of three nationally renowned Duke University scholars. The Lt. Governor Dan Forest is trying to withhold the report because it is too “negative.” He was hoping for something positive. The report found that charters are more segregated than public schools and less diverse.


For those who might be unfamiliar with the term “chutzpah,” it is a Yiddish word that means arrogance, or a combination of arrogance and ignorance.


P.S.: By using the term “scholars,” I am not referring to students in charter schools. I am referring to academicians who have a Ph.D. in their field of study.

In 2015, three distinguished researchers at Duke University studied charter schools in North Carolina and found that they serve a population that is less diverse and whiter than those who attend public schools. In addition, most of the charter schools are segregated. The Duke study was cited in a report written for Legislature by the state Department of Public Instruction. The DPI report was withheld by the Lt. Governor’s office, who said it was too “negative.” Lt. Governor Dan Forrest wants the report rewritten to show the good things about charters. He is tired of so much criticism. Forest joined the state board of election three years ago, and he constantly hears criticism of charters. (Wonder why?)


The report shows:


More than 57 percent of students attending charter schools in the current school year are white, compared with traditional public schools’ 49.5 percent, the report said.


The proportion of African-American students is about the same across both types of schools. A little more than 8 percent of charter students are Hispanic, while enrollment at traditional schools is more than 16 percent Hispanic.


The report also references an April 2015 study by Helen Ladd, Charles Clotfelter and John Holbein of Duke University that showed little integration within individual charter schools. Student populations at individual charters, their study found, are predominantly white or predominantly minority.


The state is trying to suppress the report, to try to spin it to get a positive outcome, but it won’t work. The authors of the report, distinguished academics, are not going to change their findings to please politicians.  The next post links to the full report.


Read more here:

The Charlotte News & Observer wrote an editorial calling attention to the excellent series of articles published by NC Policy Watch about the state government’s assault on public services.


There are many states where the governor and the legislature seem intent on closing down the public sector, but none has done as thorough a job as the state of North Carolina. It was once the most progressive state in the South, and it is now–in less than five years, since the Tea Party takeover of the legislature–the most regressive state in the South.


Every state should have an investigative journalistic project like NC Policy Watch, which reports without fear or favor with great fidelity to the facts.


The News & Observer editorial says:


The new majority stormed in with an agenda developed during long years in the minority, and the opportunity to make that agenda law was enhanced by the 2012 election of Republican Gov. Pat McCrory. Assessing how the consolidation of Republican power has shaped North Carolina depends on how one sees the role of government.


McCrory talks about a “Carolina Comeback” as the state economy has recovered from a deep and scarring recession. He and GOP legislative leaders say the recovery has been spurred by limiting state spending, cutting taxes and reducing regulation. But those who think government should solve problems, protect the vulnerable, assist the needy and expand opportunity for all see the years of conservative rule as a “Carolina Setback.”


That latter perspective is documented in a report published by N.C. Policy Watch, a division of the progressive advocacy group, N.C. Justice Center. The report, published in print and online, is called “Altered State: How 5 years of conservative rule have redefined North Carolina.”


Chris Fitzsimon, executive director of N.C. Policy Watch, said the five-year mark was a fitting time for an overview. The report offers articles on public spending, unfair tax cuts, reduced support for education, the politicization of the state courts, a rollback in environmental regulations, reductions in safety net programs and new limits on voting access.


Fitzsimon said putting the years of change between two covers creates a powerful picture. “When you take this as a whole, it’s stunning what has happened,” he said.


One of the report’s charts shows that during the last 45 years, state spending has averaged 6.1 percent of the state economy. That share fell when the recession hit, and has declined every year since. By fiscal year 2017, it’s projected to fall to 5 percent despite a growing state’s need for more services.


Another chart shows that tax cuts and changes since 2013 have saved those in the top 1 percent of income an average of $14,977, those in the middle 20 percent saved an average of $6 and those in the lowest 20 percent paid, on average, $30 more.


The governor and legislative leaders say they are spending more on schools, but the report shows that spending per student has fallen 14.5 percent since fiscal year 2008.



Read more here:



In 2010, Republicans swept control of the Legislature in North Carolina for the first time in a century. Two years later, a Republican governor was elected. Since then, the Republicans have sought to shred any safety net for anyone who needed it.


In this post, Chris Fitzsimon details the determined and successful efforts of the Republican majority to destroy public education and every other public institution in the state, turning the clock back many decades.


He writes:


With all three branches of government securely under their control, the ideological shift left few areas of state policy untouched. People who were already struggling have been hurt the most — low-wage workers, single mothers, people of color and immigrants. Vital life supports, such as child care subsidies, pre-K programs, unemployment insurance and food stamps, have been slashed.

And there’s been more than a loss of basic benefits. People living on the margins have been demonized in the last five years too, blamed for their struggles, penalized for their inability to find jobs that don’t exist, and cruelly stereotyped for political gain. The folks now in charge of Raleigh haven’t just made government smaller, they have also made it meaner.


Most of the money they saved from slashing safety net programs hasn’t been reinvested in education or job training or infrastructure. Instead, even as tax revenue has risen as the state recovers from the Great Recession, the savings have been given to corporations and the wealthy in a series of massive tax breaks.


Thanks to the anemic budgets of the last five years, North Carolina now spends almost 6 percent less on state services than in 2008 in inflation-adjusted dollars.


Now the folks in charge are pushing to lock in the woeful recession-era level of public investment by adding arbitrary spending limits to the state constitution in the misnamed Taxpayer Bill of Rights. In Colorado, the only state that has adopted it, it has been a disaster.


Nowhere have the cuts hit harder than in public schools, where rankings in teacher pay and per-pupil funding have spiraled toward the bottom of the 50 states.


Once recognized across the country for its commitment to public education, North Carolina now is making headlines for how much of it is being dismantled, with teachers fleeing to other states because of low salaries and the culture of animosity and disrespect from state leaders.


The meanness is evident here too. The nationally recognized Teaching Fellows program has been abolished, even as the state struggles to recruit bright students into the profession, merely because of its ties to prominent Democrats like former Gov. Jim Hunt.


Low-income kids and their families are the biggest losers in the attacks on public schools, but there are winners in the ideological assault: new for-profit companies that run charter schools, private and religious academies that now receive taxpayer funding and sketchy online institutions that are raking in state dollars.

The new ruling class in Raleigh, while professing a commitment to reduce the scope of government, increased its role in people’s personal lives and health care decisions, interfered with local issues in communities across the state, and pushed to resume executions even as two men were freed from prison, one from death row, after serving for more than 30 years for a murder they did not commit.


They made it harder for some people to vote but easier for many people to get a gun and take it into more places — bars, restaurants, parks and playgrounds. They have systematically rolled back important environmental protections, undeterred by the massive coal ash spill into the Dan River in 2014, the worst environmental disaster in the state’s history.


The radical transformation of North Carolina has prompted a passionate response in protest, as thousands have marched in Raleigh and across the state in the NAACP-led Moral Monday movement.


For all these reasons, the Network for Public Education will hold its third annual conference in Raleigh on April 16-17. Our keynote speakers include the leader of the Moral Mondays movement, Rev. Dr. William Barber. There is some scholarship money available for teachers and student activists.


Join us to speak out against the destruction of public education and the denial of basic human rights, in North Carolina and across the nation.




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