Archives for category: North Carolina

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.

Here is Mercedes Schneider with a brilliant post about the Obama U.S. Department of Education. She writes brief sketches of eight key appointees, each of whom is tied to the privatization movement.

 

When the President wonders why his party was so badly beaten at the polls earlier this month, he might think about the millions of educators who work in public schools and the millions of parents whose children attend good public schools; they are disgusted by Race to the Top, non-stop testing, test-based teacher evaluation, the Department’s preference for charter schools over public schools, and the millions of public dollars directed to TFA and charter schools. Educators were at one time a key part of the base of the Democratic party. As states like Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Louisiana, North Carolina, and Tennessee lashed out at teachers, no protest was heard from Arne Duncan. As billions were cut from school budgets in Michigan and Pennsylvania, the Obama administration was silent (Duncan wrote a letter to Governor Corbett of Pennsylvania about the defunding of Philadelphia, but it was a faint protest, not like actually showing up). At present, educators and parents feel abandoned by both parties.

The Daily Tarheel published an editorial advising students at the University of North Carolina to think twice before joining Teach for America.

The writers noted that the state pays $3,000 per year for each of 500 TFA, most of whom will leave after two years in the classroom. At the same time the legislature set aside money for TFA temps, it eliminated the successful North Carolina Teaching Fellows program, whose graduates pledge to stay as teachers in the NC public schools for at least four years.

“More often, TFA’s shortcomings are symptomatic of broader failings in American education rather than of its own malfeasance. As of 2013, less than 1 percent of N.C. teachers were TFA employees. If the state wants better teachers, it should pay them more and restore the N.C. Teaching Fellows program, which required a four-year commitment to teach in the state’s public schools. And policymakers should recommit to tackling the crippling poverty that inhibits the educational advancement of all children nationally.

“Meanwhile, students and current TFA employees should continue pushing the program to reform itself. At the very least, TFA ought to consider increasing the length of its required commitment.

“This board holds a litany of other concerns with TFA, including the often insufficient emotional support it provides its young teachers and the particular effect it has on unions and teachers of color. Students, teachers, TFA alumni and current employees, we want to hear from you.”

John Merrow says that Baker Mitchell of North Carolina could teach Jesse James a few tricks about making money.

Lesson one: Open charter schools.

Lesson two: become the sole supplier of most of the things they must purchase.

Lesson three: Keep your books closed because your for-profit corporation is private.

Lesson Four: remember to say you are doing it for the kids.

Lesson Five: Go to the bank: “Even though none of his publicly-funded schools is set up to run ‘for profit,’ about $19,000,000 of the $55,000,000 he has received in public funds has gone to his own for-profit businesses, which manage many aspects of the schools.”

Merrow writes:

“Mr. Mitchell seems to have experienced a learning curve. At first he billed his own charter schools for only two line items: ‘Building and equipment rental’ and ‘Management fees,’ for a total of just $2,600,878 in FY2008 and $2,325,881 in FY2009.

But apparently he was learning how the system works. In FY 2010 he added an innocuous sounding line item, “Allocated costs,” for which he billed $739,893, cracking the $3,000,000 barrier.

In FY2011 he added more line items:

Staff development & supervision: $549,626
Back office & support: $169,357
Building rent-classrooms: $965,740
Building rent-administration offices: $82,740, and
Miscellaneous equipment rent: $317,898.

The grand total for FY2011 was $3,712,946.

Jesse James was shot by a member of his own gang; if he were alive today, he might be dying from envy.

Mr. Mitchell broke the $4,000,000 barrier in FY2012, when the same line items totaled $4,137,382.

According to the audited financial statements for FY2013, Mr. Mitchell’s companies received $6,313,924, as follows:

16% management fee: $2,047,873
Administrative support: $2,796,943
Building and equipment rental: $1,474,108

“Dig into the audited statements (here and here) and you get some idea of where the $6,313,924 did not go. For example, the schools spent only $16,319 on staff development [4], which works out to less than three-tenths of one percent. They report spending just $28,060 on computers and technology, which is also about three-tenths of one percent.”

It’s all for the kids.

For many years, North Carolina had a national reputation as the most progressive state in the South. Its leaders worked across party lines to increase educational opportunity and improve the schools. Now, however, the Governor and the Legislature are in a race to the bottom. Teachers’ salaries are near the bottom of the nation. The exodus of experienced teachers is at a historic high. The legislature has funded charters and vouchers, in an effort to defund and harm public schools.

Matt Caggia, a social studies teacher in Wake County, describes this bizarre situation, in which the legislature puts corporations first and students last.

For a comprehensive summary of the damage done to public education in North Carolina by its elected officials, read this article by Duke University economist Helen Ladd and her husband Edward Fiske, former education editor of the Néw York Times.

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