Archives for category: North Carolina

Conservatives are typically “strict constructionists” when it comes to the law and the Constitution. But not, apparently, in North Carolina.

The state Constitution says unequivocally that public dollars are to be users “exclusively” for public schools. The Legislature could try to change the Constitution but they decided instead that it doesn’t mean what it says. The Legislature has appropriated $10 million of public money that may be spent in private and religious schools.

“Those schools, which can range from religious schools with several students to a home school of one, are not subject to state standards relating to curriculum, testing and teacher certification and are free to accept or reject students of their own choosing, including for religious or other discriminatory reasons.”

As a plaintiff’s attorney put it:

“North Carolina’s voucher program is unique. No other voucher program in the country allows the receipts of vouchers by private schools that can be unaccredited; employ unlicensed uncertified teachers — including teachers who don’t even have a high school diploma; employ teachers and staff without performing a criminal background check; teach no science or history; teach only the recitation of religious texts; and discriminate against students with disabilities. In the absence of standards, North Carolina stands in a class of its own.”

— Burton Craige
on behalf of challengers in the Hart case”

Is there anyone who believes that this program will improve education?

Interesting that conservatives in North Carolina believe that the wording of the Constitution doesn’t mean what it says. They are now “loose constructionists.” The state Constitution says what they want it to say. They have no fidelity to the actual words in the Constitutuon, only to their ideology

Helen Ladd, Professor of Public Policy at Duke University, and her husband, Edward Fiske, former education editor of the New York Times, reviewed the recently released letter grades for schools and here explain what they mean. 

 

They write:

 

In a nutshell, we need to figure out how to break the link between poverty and achievement in our schools. A crucial first step is to support policies and programs that directly address the particular challenges that poor students bring with them to school.

 

The most striking pattern that emerged from the letter grades from the NC Department of Public Instruction was the near-perfect correlation between letter grades and economic disadvantage. The News & Observer reported that 80 percent of schools where at least four-fifths of children qualify for the federal free or reduced lunch received a D or F grade, whereas 90 percent of schools with fewer than one in five students on the subsidized lunch program received As or Bs.

 

The fact that, on average, students from disadvantaged households perform less well in school than peers from more advantaged backgrounds has been documented at all levels of education.

 

What can we do? Ladd and Fiske say there are three possible strategies:

 

1. Reduce poverty directly. That will be politically difficult and take time, even though it is the best response.

 

2. Ignore the problem. This is the approach of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top.

 

They write about this approach of denial:

 

Policymakers often rationalize their denial of the relationship between poverty on achievement because they sincerely believe that schools should offset the effects of low socio-economic status. Others fear that setting lower expectations for some groups of students – what President George W. Bush called the “soft bigotry of low expectations” – will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. But in both cases, simply wanting something to be true does not make it true.

 

Still other policymakers cite examples of schools serving low-income students, such as some of the Knowledge as Power Program (KIPP) charter schools that have managed to “beat the odds” with disadvantaged students. Consistent with such exceptions, according to The News & Observer, about 5 percent of North Carolina schools where at least three-fifths of students qualify for subsidized lunches, received As or Bs as letter grades, some of them charters. But such successes are often largely attributable to these schools’ success in attracting students from the high end of the ability or motivational spectrum, or to substantial supplemental funding from foundations, or to extremely hard work of their teachers. Absolutely no evidence exists that the few success stories can be scaled up to address the needs of large proportions of disadvantaged students.

 

3. A third – and far more preferable – approach is to acknowledge that while we are not going to be able to eliminate poverty any time soon, we can find ways of targeting the specific ways in which poverty hampers learning. Put another way, we can address the particular challenges that disadvantaged children face as they pursue their education.

 

Fortunately, we already know a lot about these challenges. A wide body of research has demonstrated how poor health care – both physical and mental – and the lack of quality early childhood education translates into low cognitive performance. Research by one of the authors, Helen Ladd, and two colleagues has shown that quality early education programs reduce the need for spending on special education later on.

 

Other research has documented how poor children often have limited access to the language and problem solving skills that serve as springboards to future learning. We know how family poverty also translates into limited access to books and computers at home or to the enrichment that comes from vacation travel….

 

The challenge for policymakers is to look for ways to minimize the impact of the particular challenges that many disadvantaged children face. We should, in short, look for ways to provide children from low-income families with the same sort of education-enriching experiences and resources that middle-income children take for granted.

 

They give examples of valuable interventions such as school-based health clinics, early childhood programs, after-school and summer programs, and other “wraparound” services.

 

The message of the letter grades, say Ladd and Fiske, is that the relationship between poverty and low school achievement can no longer be denied.

 

 

 

 

LIndsay Wagner of the NC Policy Watch reports that nearly 30 percent of the public schools in the state received a letter grade of D or F.

 

Surprise: Almost all of them are high-poverty schools.

 

“The only thing these grades tell us is where our poor children go to school and where our rich children go to school,” said Lynn Shoemaker, a 23 year veteran public school teacher representing the advocacy group Public Schools First NC at a press conference held by Senate Democrats.

 

The North Carolina General Assembly joined more than a dozen other states in adopting A-F school letter grades — a system of accountability that former governor of Florida Jeb Bush conceived more than 15 years ago. Eighty percent of North Carolina’s school grades reflect student achievement on standardized tests on one given day, and 20 percent reflect students’ progress on those tests over time….

 

“Is this data for shaming purposes?” said Rep. Tricia Cotham (D-Mecklenberg) in an interview with N.C. Policy Watch.

 

Rep. Cotham, who has worked at a low-wealth school, said it’s very damaging to receive yet another strike that these letter grades bring when low-wealth schools already battle against so many obstacles.

 

Since poverty is the root cause of low academic performance, why isn’t the North Carolina leadership working on that problem instead of shaming schools?

 

 

– See more at: http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2015/02/05/high-poverty-schools-receive-vast-majority-of-states-d-and-f-grades/#sthash.2qix4ld8.dpuf

 

This year, for the first time, North Carolina followed Jeb Bush’s lead and gave each of its schools a letter grade, A-F. The grades reflect poverty and also the state’s failure to support the schools with the greatest needs. The idea that a complex institution can be given a single letter grade is nonsensical. If a child came home with a single letter grade, his or her parents would be outraged. How much stupider it is to stigmatize schools with a single letter grade.

Here is a letter from North Carolina teacher Stuart Egan on this subject:

“The North Carolina State Board of Education (SBOE) and the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) released performance grades for all public schools on February 5th. According to the formula, a high percentage of each school grade was based on a single round of tests, assessments rushed into implementation to satisfy Race to the Top requirements.

“These performance grades serve as a clear indication of what our leaders are not doing to help students in public schools. Of the 707 schools that received a “D” or an “F” from the state, 695 qualify as schools with high poverty; meanwhile, more than half of the schools that achieved an “A” were early colleges, academies, and charter schools whose enrollments are much smaller and more selective than traditional public schools.

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

“My prediction is that the results next year will be even more polarized but not because of any real improvement. Instead of a fifteen-point scale, the state will use a ten-point scale. Gov. McCrory and Sen. Berger will tout the strength of charter schools and other “reforms” for election-year platforms. It becomes confirmation bias.

“So as a parent, teacher, voter, and taxpayer, I want to offer my own grades to the very officials who control the conditions of school environments and manipulate how schools are graded:

The General Assembly receives an “F” for the following actions:

· The denial of Medicaid expansion for students who live in poverty. It is hard to perform academically when basic medical needs cannot be met. 1 in 5 students in Forsyth County are in poverty. WSFCS had an overall rate of 41.1 percent of schools with a “D” or “F”.

· The financing of failed charter schools that have no oversight and are, in many cases, acts of financial recklessness. New oversight rules are being requested in light of questionable use of taxpayer money as 10 charter schools are currently on a watch list.

· The funding of vouchers (Opportunity Grants) that effectively removed money for public education and reallocated it to charter schools.

· The underfunding of our public university system, which forces increases in tuition, while giving tax breaks to companies who benefit from our educated workforce.

· The removal of longevity pay for all veteran teachers, who now are the only state employees without it.

· The dismantling of the Teaching Fellows Program that recruited our state’s brightest to become the teachers of our next generation.

“The SBOE and DPI receive an “F” for the following actions:

· The emphasis on publicizing favorable graduation rates rather than on addressing the social factors that impede learning, particularly at the preschool or elementary levels.

· The removal of the cap for class size for traditional schools and claiming it will not impede student learning.

· The administration of too many tests (EOCT’s, MSL’s, CC’s, NC Finals, etc.). These change every year, take more time away from instruction and measure very little.

· The constant change in curriculum standards (Standard Course of Study, Common Core, etc.).

· The appointment of non-educators to leadership roles in writing new curricula.

· The engagement with profit-motivated companies that dictate not only what teachers are allowed to teach but also how students are assessed. Pearson, for example, provides not only curriculum standards for many of the subjects taught in North Carolina but also insists you use Pearson-made standardized tests many which require that Pearson employees grade them—for a price.

· The continuous change in how teachers are evaluated (Formative/Summative, NCEES, True North Logic, Standard 6). The system that many teachers are now subjected to is actually being implemented before it is even finalized.

“Officials who support the school performance grading system claim that it gives parents a better view of how our schools are performing. But if that is the case, why have EVAAS growth models and accreditation requirements? Never mind that those measures offer a more complete view of a school’s competence.

“Schools provide a great reflection of a society and how it prioritizes education. When our schools are told that they are failing, those with the power to affect change are really the ones who deserve the failing grades.”

Stuart Egan
West Forsyth High School
Clemmons, NC

Reverend William Barber has created the beginnings of a powerful new civil rights movement in North Carolina. NC used to be the most progressive state in the south. No more.

The North Carolina legislature has passed law after law to limit voting rights, cut unemployment benefits, reduce spending on higher education, and privatize public education. The legislature has authorized charter schools and vouchers and funded Teach for America, while attacking tenure for experienced teachers.

Reverend Barber initiated regular Monday protests at the State Capitol called Moral Mondays. He has galvanized resistance to injustice and built a multiracial coalition. Many call him the new Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a powerful preacher who moves people to action.

Here is an example of one of his great speeches. He could be a transformational leader for our times. Not just in North Carolina but nationally.

State Senator Phil Berger (and president pro tem of the North Carolina State Senate has championed budget cuts that hurt the public schools in his district. He has also championed charter schools, which have minimal accountability. Stuart Egan, a North Carolina teacher, explains what appears to be inexplicable:

“It’s getting deeper here in North Carolina. Literally.

“A recent news story in the Winston-Salem Journal highlighted once again that North Carolina’s General Assembly is bent on starving our public schools into submission with lack of funds and shortage of resources – even the most basic of necessities like toilet paper.

“Danielle Battaglia reports that the Rockingham County school system is literally having to rob “Peter to pay Paul” just to keep schools open and functioning. Classes lack textbooks; copy paper is unaffordable; basic janitorial supplies cannot be bought. You can read about that here: http://www.journalnow.com/news/state_region/rockingham-county-schools-short-on-the-basics/article_61b15a34-bcfd-5407-83a4-86a2830c5ab2.html.

“One really big irony here is that Rockingham County is the home of our current and newly reelected NCGA Senate President Pro Tem, Phil Berger, Sr. He was one of the champions of the current state budget that is crippling the very schools he serves, especially the ones in his hometown of Eden, NC. That current budget also is supporting the exponential growth of charter schools which are able to take public funds, surreptitiously hide how the money is spent while escaping oversight and eluding state standards that are in constant flux.

“One of those charter schools, Providence Charter, gained final approval from the state board this year to open in Rockingham County and will possibly enroll 500 students. Rockingham County Public high schools only have around 4200 students total. That amounts to well over 10% of available students being siphoned off to a school that can claim to be a public institution in order to get state funds, but then assert itself as a private entity so that it cannot be audited with the same transparency as public schools are. The fact that many who start and operate charter schools are financially motivated is not a secret. What makes this one charter school especially suspicious is that it is co-founded by Phil Berger, Jr., the state senator’s son. You can read about that here: http://www.newsadvance.com/rockingham_now/news/providence-charter-officially-approved-to-open/article_06f3390c-7976-11e3-904c-0019bb30f31a.html?mode=jqm.

“When small school districts lose numbers like Rockingham County, they also lose the ability to petition for adequate funds. Imagine what happens to a school system when it loses over ten percent of its students; the financial impact can be staggering. Textbooks cannot be bought; facilities cannot be maintained. Bathrooms lack toilet paper. Students suffer. Communities stagnate.

“Providence Charter in Eden, NC will be the first charter high school in Rockingham County, but there already exists a charter middle school, Bethany Community Middle School. Who is on the board of that school? Yes, Phil Berger, Jr. In essence, Sen. Berger is allowing and enabling his own son to weaken the very public schools in his home district.

“This is not only a conflict of interest, but a growing trend to “reform” public education here in North Carolina. It would make more sense to take all of the resources, energy, and funds that would be siphoned off to the charter schools and work to improve the public schools that already exist. It seems to me that an elected official would make sure that as many people in his district as possible benefit from tax-payer money, maybe even enough to get some toilet paper and even new textbooks in schools that actually reflect the curriculum (which is about to change again).

“What hurts the most is that we as citizens keep electing these people to office and allow them to do detrimental things to our public schools under the guise of civic service and school choice. And it’s not just a school level problem; it’s an overall education problem.

“We as North Carolinians are not educating ourselves well enough to sift through political doublespeak and partisan propaganda. We are voting on perceptions and not truths. But it is hard to know the truth when facts are covered and avenues to learn are blocked and tampered with. What occurs is an environment where personalities are placed before principles. That causes people to suffer, especially our students.

“For example, last August a legislative assistant for Rep. Tim Moore named Nancy Garriss had an exchange with a veteran teacher on the phone and referred to the teacher as an “idiot” for even questioning the treatment of public education in the new state budget. This did not go unnoticed (http://dianeravitch.net/2014/08/09/what-north-carolina-teachers-say-about-that-historic-pay-raise/). Yet once again, North Carolinians in Cleveland County, NC selected Rep .Tim Moore to go back to Raleigh and in another example of cruel irony, he was just elected by his GOP peers as the new House Speaker of the NC General Assembly to replace Thom Tillis, who defeated the incumbent Kay Hagan for the US Senate. Less than half of registered voters in North Carolina came to the polls for these past midterm elections and the results were not favorable to public schools. But that could change.

“The operative word here is “midterm.” As soon as one election cycle ends, another ramps up and begins to take shape, and this next one can be a great time to take back our public schools. Historically, more registered voters go to the polls during presidential and gubernatorial election years. And all NCGA members will again be campaigning (or not) to be sent back to Raleigh. Imagine if just over half of the registered voters in North Carolina went to the polls, then people who champion public education could be put into positions to help our students.

“Look at this metaphorically. As a teacher, I look at midterm grades as a marker of sorts. It is not the final course grade, but an indication of what work needs to be done and a way to reflect on how teaching and learning can be improved. Our midterm grades in North Carolina are not stellar by any means. Declining support of public schools, lack of medical insurance coverage for those who need it most, voting restrictions, and lost revenue only begin to explain what North Carolina faces. Yet, it can change. The “final” grade can be much better. I just hope no more damage occurs in our state before we learn the lesson.

“By then we may need more than toilet paper to clean it up.”

Stuart Egan, NBCT

West Forsyth High School

Clemmons, NC

Chris Fitzsimon describes what happened to the public schools in State Senator Phil Berger’s home district because of the budget cuts he pushed. Some schools can’t pay for textbooks, some can’t afford copy paper or toilet paper. Inspired by Republican and Tea Party rhetoric, voters rejected a quarter-cent increase in the sales tax.

Who cares about the children?

Previously, the North Carolina state board of education rejected online virtual schools, which are eager to open up the “market” in that state. Now that the board is business-friendly, it appears that it may allow both K12, Inc. (launched by the Milken brothers and listed on the New York Stock Exchange) and Connections Education (owned by Pearson) to open. The issue will be decided at the next board meeting. 

 

These corporations receive full tuition, while giving students a “free” computer and instructional materials. Their parents are their coaches. It is a profitable business since the “school” has no facilities, no custodians, no playgrounds, etc. Online teachers monitor large numbers of screens and are low-paid. Essentially, the state is paying for home schooling. Online virtual charters typically have high attrition rates, low test scores, and low graduation rates.

We recently learned that the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction has proposed to adopt a civics course designed by the Bill of Rights Institute, which is funded by the highly political, very conservative billionaires, the Koch brothers. Fortunately, Bill Bigelow of “Rethinking Schools” has researched the materials produced by the Bill of Rights Institute. Bigelow says that the Koch brothers have donated millions of dollars to the Bill of Rights Institute, which promotes free-market libertarianism and above all, respect for property rights. The BRI was “launched in 1999 and funded by the Charles Koch Foundation, the Fred and Mary Koch Foundation, and David Koch. The BRI directors include Mark Humphrey, Koch Industries senior vice president; Ryan Stowers, director of higher education programs at the Charles Koch Foundation; and Todd Zywicki, a senior scholar of the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, funded with corporate donations from the likes of Koch and ExxonMobil. Until 2013, the Bill of Rights Institute president was the Koch operative Tony Woodlief, who headed the Market-Based Management Institute in the Kochs’ hometown of Wichita, Kansas, and served as president of the Mercatus Center….”

 

“In its materials for teachers and students, the Bill of Rights Institute cherry-picks the Constitution, history, and current events to hammer home its libertarian message that the owners of private property should be free to manage their wealth as they see fit. billofrightsinstitute_libertarianmssgAs one Bill of Rights lesson insists, “The Founders considered industry and property rights critical to the happiness of society.” This message that individual owners of property are the source of social good, their property sacred, and government the source of danger weaves through the entire Koch curriculum, sometimes with sophistication, other times in caricature. For example, in one “click-and-explore” activity at the BRI website, showing the many ways that government can oppress individuals—”Life Without the Bill of Rights?”—a cartoon character pops up with a dialogue bubble reading, “The gov’t took my home!” An illustration shows his home demolished.

 

“Educator resources for “Documents of Freedom” at the BRI site underscore this business-good/government-bad message: “When government officials can make any laws they please—and hold themselves above the law—there is less economic growth, less creativity, and less happiness. Entrepreneurs won’t be willing to risk time and money starting businesses. Writers and speakers will restrain their words. Everyone will worry that his freedoms can be destroyed at the whim of a powerful government agent….”

 

“Focusing narrowly on property rights to the exclusion of racism and issues of social inequality are not limited to history lessons in the BRI materials. One section on the website is “Teaching with Current Events,” and includes a lesson, “Stand Your Ground and Castle Doctrine Laws.” It offers quiet cover for Trayvon Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman, mentioned in the lesson’s introduction. Here’s the lesson’s first discussion question: “Florida’s ‘Stand-Your-Ground’ law states ‘A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.’ How would you put this law in your own words?”

 

“A follow-up question asks students to search the Constitution and Bill of Rights to support this law. But nothing in the lesson encourages students to search their own lives or to view Stand-Your-Ground from the standpoint of people who might be victimized by someone like George Zimmerman. The sanctity of an individual’s property is paramount—here and everywhere in the BRI materials.

 

“This lesson is especially disingenuous given that Florida’s “Stand-Your-Ground” law was a product of ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council—a Koch-funded outfit that promotes “model” conservative legislation. The Kochs not only pay for laws to be written and passed, they now pay for them to be legitimated in the school curriculum as well.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

North Carolina’s Department of Public Instruction plans to adopt a high school course to teach the founding principles of American government, which was developed by an institute funded by the notorious Koch Brothers.

 

State high school social studies teachers would be encouraged to use curriculum materials prepared by an institute funded by the conservative Koch family, under a proposal the Department of Public Instruction presented Wednesday.

The Bill of Rights Institute, based in Virginia, had a $100,000, sole-source contract with the state to help develop materials for teachers to use in a course on founding principles that the state requires students to take. The institute was founded in 1999 and receives grants from David H. Koch, the Charles Koch Foundation, and the Fred and Mary Koch Foundation, according to a website on Koch family philanthropies.

The state Department of Public Instruction decision to “highly recommend” that school districts use the Bill of Rights Institute material comes as the state is embroiled in a controversy over teaching history – whether schools have students study the founding principles as the law requires, whether AP U.S. History meets those requirements and whether the college-level course developed by the College Board has a liberal bias.

The 390-page founding principles curriculum includes readings, activities, questions students should discuss and references to online resources for the 10 principles described in a 2011 law inspired by proposed legislation promoted by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative group backed by major corporations….

 

June Atkinson, state school superintendent and a Democrat, said the state looked for groups that could help write the founding principles curriculum but found only the Bill of Rights Institute. The institute did not return phone calls.

 

The institute collaborated with state educators, Atkinson said, and they requested feedback from teachers, who reviewed the work and suggested changes.

 

“It wasn’t a carte blanche, we’ll take what you have,” she said. “We wanted a balanced approach.”

 

But history teachers said in interviews Wednesday that they already have a wealth of resources available for teaching the founding principles. Some said it was not appropriate for a Koch-connected group to write public school course materials, and none knew that the state had hired the institute to develop a curriculum.

 

Charles and David Koch are active in conservative politics and finance an expansive political network.

 

People whose “principal concern is profit-making” should not develop curriculum, said Bryan Proffitt, a history teacher at Hillside High School in Durham. Curriculum should be developed “in a democratic fashion” by people closest to the classroom, he said.

 

 

Read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/12/03/4374397_state-education-department-used.html?sp=/99/100/&rh=1#storylink=cp.

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