Archives for category: North Carolina

Jeff Bryant has written a stunning documentation of the damage done by the charter industry to public schools in North Carolina. It is worth your time to read it all. It is a preview of what lies ahead for public education in the Trump era, unless parents and educators and public-spirited citizens join to save their public schools. It is not a pretty picture.

 

The Tea Party Republicans in the legislature and Governor Pat McCrory in the state house set a course to undermine, underfund, and starve public schools while opening the state to charter schools, whether nonprofit or for-profit. Jeff Bryant shows how funding for the public schools is below 2008 levels, even though enrollment has grown by nearly 80,000. Public schools have had to make budget cuts, at the same time that charter schools and online charter schools take away students and funding. In North Carolina, as in many states, if a student leaves a charter school after October to return to the public school, the charter school gets to keep the full year of tuition and is not obliged to replace the student who left.

 

The board that oversees charter schools and decides which new charters to approve is filled with charter school advocates. As Donald Trump used to say, “It’s a rigged system, folks, it’s a rigged system.”

 

Bryant explains in detail how the for-profit charter management companies make money. He uses the example of National Heritage Academies, which is based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the hometown of Donald Trump’s designated Secretary of Education. Half their teachers may be uncertified, which means they have lower salary costs. But the real money is in the real estate.

 

Bryant writes:

 

How do these schools make a profit? The best answer the reporter for the Charlotte Observer could find was in management fees for the EMOs [educational management organizations], which In North Carolina equal to 7 – 19 percent of total school operational costs.

 

But based on my inquiries, that figure represents a very small part of the profit these schools make.

 

Out Of Michigan And Florida

 

“North Carolina is one those states that is new to the charter game,” Ellen Lipton tells me in a phone call to her office in Michigan – home of National Heritage Academies. NHA is based in Grand Rapids, where Betsy DeVos also lives.

 

“The low per-student funding that tends to characterize Southern states generally kept charter school operators from moving into those states,” she contends. “But now states like Michigan are getting saturated” so the charter chains have decided to move south.

Lipton is a Michigan State Representative who has spoken out against the spread of charter schools through the state’s Education Achievement Authority, an appointed agency, similar to the Achievement School District North Carolina created last year, that takes over low-performing schools and turns them over to charter operators.

 

According to Lipton, NHA has “fine-tuned” the business of chartering to ensure they make a profit. She points me to a recent investigative report by the Detroit Free Press that finds, “It is difficult to know how charter management companies are spending money … Unlike traditional school districts, the management companies usually don’t disclose their vendors, contracts, and competitive bid documents.”

 

“NHA is a business model based on, not necessarily educating kids, but on being a facilities management company,” Casandra Ulbrich, another Michigan source, tells me.

 

Ulbrich is currently serving her second eight-year term on the Michigan State Board of Education and also works in education administration at a state community college.

 

She tells me how the NHA business model works: First, NHA forms a charter school board to “invite” NHA to manage a new school. The governing board is not independent of the management company, and members of the board can serve on multiple NHA charter boards across the state, thus creating a network of charter school boosters the work on promoting these schools.

 

After securing a contract to manage the new school, NHA purchases a building – it could be a storefront in a strip mall or an abandoned warehouse – and requests approval from an authorizer to open a school there. After the authorization, the charter board signs a lease agreement with Charter Development Company, LLC to take over ownership of the building. Charter Development Company, which has branches in all the states where NHA has schools, has its home office in Grand Rapids, Michigan, at the same address as the home office of NHA.

 

Now NHA and its related enterprises own the building and its contents, even if desks, computers, and equipment have been purchased with taxpayer money. It receives rent payments from the district. It owns the curriculum the school teaches. And if NHA is ever fired, the charter board – and by extension the district – is in the awkward position of having to buy back its own school.

 

 

After a hard-fought election that produced a narrow margin of victory, State Attorney General Roy Cooper was elected the next Governor of North Carolina. Pat McCrory, current governor and Tea Party hero, conceded defeat.

 

Education was the leading issue for Roy Cooper. He railed against the actions of McCrory and the legislature, and he was elected even as the state voted for Trump. Maybe that’s a lesson for Democratic candidates in other states. Supporting public schools is wise and politically powerful.

 

This is what Governor-elect Cooper says on his website:

 

We need to make education a priority. Governor McCrory has prioritized huge tax giveaways to big corporations and those at the top while he cut teaching assistants and failed to provide the resources our children need and to pay our teachers what they deserve.

 

We have to give more pay and respect to teachers, and to treat them as the professionals they are. Among the top priorities are increasing teacher pay, reversing cuts to textbooks and school buses, and stopping teacher assistant lay-offs.

 

Teachers will ultimately know we respect them when our policy reflects our rhetoric. Reinstating a teaching fellows program to attract the best and brightest, providing opportunities for teachers to improve their skills as professionals, and making sure their kids are healthy and ready to learn in the classroom are vital.

 

North Carolina already ranks 46th in the country and last in the Southeast in per-pupil expenditures for public schools. Many good teachers are leaving for other states for better jobs, and class size has increased. That’s causing parents to lose faith in public schools and undermining North Carolina’s best jobs recruiting tool, our education system.

 

Similarly, I oppose vouchers that drain money from public schools. I support strong standards and openness for all schools, particularly charter schools. While some charters are strong, we see troubling trends, such as a re-segregation of the student population, or misuse of state funds without a way to make the wrongdoers reimburse taxpayers. We need to manage the number of charter schools to ensure we don’t damage public education and we need to better measure charter schools so we can utilize good ideas in all schools.

 

We must support early childhood education as well as our great universities and community colleges. Our approach to quality education must be comprehensive.

 

Here is his education agenda.

 

 

In one of the closest elections in the country, Governor Pat McCrory conceded at last to State Attorney General Roy Cooper in the race for governor.

 

McCrory came to office as the formerly moderate mayor of Charlotte. Once in office, he joined the far-right wing Tea Party majority in the General Assembly to pass legislation for charters and vouchers, to eliminate the respected North Carolina Teaching Fellows program (which required a five-year education commitment and produced career teachers) and replaced it with a $6 million grant to Teach for America, and enacted law after law to reduce the status of the teaching profession.

 

To understand the damage that McCrory and his cronies did to the state read this summary of five years of political wrecking imposed on the state.

I don’t approve of stepping on the flag or burning it, but my understanding is that the Supreme Court ruled that burning the flag is a form of speech and is protected under the First Amendment. There are many things and many kinds of speech I don’t like, but the First Amendment protects the speech I don’t like, even the speech I hate.

 

A history teacher in North Carolina tried to illustrate his lesson on the First Amendment by stepping on the flag, and he was suspended without pay.

 

Ironic to be teaching the lesson, then suspended because you thought that the Supreme Court ruling was in force.

As I have mentioned many times, the highly successful schools of Finland emphasize play, the arts, and creativity. They don’t begin teaching reading until children are in first or second grade. The Finns want school to be a stress free, joyful experience for children. And it works. The schools have been described by international organizations as the best in the world.

Stuart Egan, high school teacher in North Carolina, warns that the state is threatening to cut the arts and physical education from the elementary schools. This is crazy. Is the General Assembly’s goal to make school boring? To ruin young bodies by lack of movement?

He writes:

“A long long time ago
I can still remember how
That music used to make me smile
And I knew if I had my chance
That I could make those people dance
And maybe they’d be happy for a while
But February made me shiver
With every paper I’d deliver
Bad news on the doorstep
I couldn’t take one more step
I can’t remember if I cried
When I read about his widowed bride
Something touched me deep inside
The day the music died.”

Don McLean’s famous song “American Pie” has been the subject of tremendous amounts of explication. Websites devoted to explaining all of the lyrics and all of the rumored allusions can take a day or two to just peruse, but McLean himself has identified the “day the music died” as that day in Feb. of 1959 when a plane carrying Buddy Holly (“That’ll Be The Day”), Richie Valens (“La Bamba”), and J.P. Richardson (aka. The Big Bopper) crashed killing all three rock icons.

McLean’s song highlighted our culture’s need for music, expression, and how important it is to cultivate our sense of being by developing not just the logical left side of the brain, but the creative right side as well.

What followed in the next 15 years was possibly one of the most turbulent times in American history: the Civil Rights Movement, Vietnam, Watergate, Women’s Rights, ongoing Cold War, etc. And the music and the rest of its artistic siblings helped us to capture, reflect, express, communicate, and heal from those scars received.

And now with the current political climate on this global terrain, we may need to rely on our artistic expressions to help cope and grow from what we will experience in the near future.

How ironic that in such turbulent times our own leaders are searching for ways to quash our children’s opportunities to develop the very creative and physical skills that study after study shows make us more complete, well-rounded, and prepared for life’s situations.

A Nov. 14th report on NC Policy Watch by Billy Ball (“New rules to lower class sizes force stark choices, threatening the arts, music and P.E”) states,

“North Carolina public school leaders say a legislative mandate to decrease class sizes in the early grades may have a devastating impact on school systems across the state, forcing districts to spend millions more hiring teachers or cut scores of positions for those teaching “specialty” subjects such as arts, music and physical education” (http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2016/11/14/new-rules-lower-class-sizes-force-stark-choices-threatening-tas-specialty-education-positions/).

First, I would make the argument that arts, music, and physical education are not “specialties” but “necessities.” In a nation that is spending more on health problems caused by obesity, the need to get kids moving and away from the television might be just as important as core subject material. Secondly, it shows a glaring contradiction to the religious platforms that many in our state government have been using to maintain office and their potential actions to eliminate part of children’s curriculum.

The predominant spiritual path in the United States, Judeo-Christianity, talks much of the need for music, dance, movement, song, and expression. I think of all of the hymns and musicals my own Southern Baptist church produced, most complete with choreography, which is odd considering that many joke about Baptists’ aversion to dancing.

Even the Bible commands “Sing to the LORD a new song; Sing to the LORD, all the earth” (Psalms 96:1), and “Praise Him with timbrel and dancing; Praise Him with stringed instruments and pipe” (Psalm 150:4).

Furthermore, the Bible often talks of the body as being a “temple of the Holy Spirit” and even commands Christians to stay physically fit. “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

Yet, some of our GOP stalwarts who are cheering about a budget surplus are planning to “ force districts into stark choices about how to allocate their resources.” Ball continues,

“In some districts, it may mean spending millions more in local dollars to hire additional teachers. Or in other districts, officials say, leaders may be forced to eliminate specialty education positions or draw cash from other pools, such as funding for teaching assistants.”

That’s egregious. That’s backwards. That’s forcing school districts to make decisions about whether to educate the whole child or part of the child in order to make student/teacher ratios look favorable.

That’s like going out of your way to get plastic surgery, liposuction, and body sculpting to create a new look while ignoring the actual health of your body. Without proper nutrition, sleep, exercise, mental health, and emotional support, we open doors to maladies.

When the Bible talks about a temple, it talks about the insides, not just the outsides.

Interestingly enough, many of the private schools and charter schools that receive public money through Opportunity Grants have plentiful art programs and physical education opportunities.

Wow.

What our history has shown us time and time again is that we needed music, dance, arts, and physical education to cope and grow as people and we needed them to become better students. To force the removal of these vital areas of learning would be making our students more one-dimensional. It would make them less prepared.

Don McLean released “American Pie” in 1971. It is widely considered one of the top ten songs of the entire twentieth century. Fifty-five years later, it still has relevance.

The last verse (or “outro”) is actually a tad bit haunting.

“I met a girl who sang the blues
And I asked her for some happy news
But she just smiled and turned away
I went down to the sacred store
Where I’d heard the music years before
But the man there said the music wouldn’t play

And in the streets, the children screamed
The lovers cried and the poets dreamed
But not a word was spoken
The church bells all were broken

And the three men I admire most
The Father, Son and the Holy Ghost
They caught the last train for the coast
The day the music died.”

When we elect our public servants to serve, we give them the keys to the vehicle that drives our state, a purple colored divided state that has HB2, vouchers, redistricting, Voter ID laws, underfunded public schools, and poverty.

Now imagine that vehicle being a Chevy. We don’t need to go to a dry levee.

We need to keep the music and the other “necessities.”

North Carolina has two virtual charter schools, one operated by Pearson, the other by Michael Milken’s K12 Inc. Both have high attrition rates and poor student performance, as reported in state data.

“Students at one of the state’s two brand new virtual charter schools are dropping out at a rate that exceeds the maximum allowed by state law, according to a report authored by the North Carolina Office of Charter Schools.

“North Carolina Connections Academy, a virtual charter school backed by education technology giant Pearson, reported a student dropout rate of 31.3 percent for the 2015-16 academic year. State law says virtual charters can’t exceed dropout rates of 25 percent.

“Both of the two virtual charter schools’ dropout rates exceeded the statutory maximum when not considering “finite enrollees” in their calculations. It’s up to the virtual charters to select who they believe those enrollees are in accordance with state law, which says finite enrollees are students who indicate in advance that they wish to enroll for just a portion of the school year.
When K12, Inc.-backed NC Virtual Academy excluded finite enrollees from their calculations as the law allows, they then met the statutory maximum dropout rate at exactly 25 percent.

“Both schools demonstrated poor academic outcomes for their students this past academic year, each receiving F school performance grades in math and Cs in reading. They were also categorized as low performing schools, a designation that requires them to submit a strategic improvement plan. Both schools also received the lowest possible score for student academic growth, a 50 on a scale of 50-100….

“Virtual charter schools have not performed well on the whole. A recent study conducted by Stanford’s CREDO found that students attending virtual schools didn’t learn anything in math for the entire academic year, and poor performance by these schools even prompted the NCAA to announce it will no longer accept coursework in its initial eligibility certification process from 24 virtual schools that are affiliated with K12, Inc. Tennessee has sought to close the K12, Inc.-backed virtual charter school there.”

Despite the dismal performance of the virtual charters, which drain money away from public schools, lawmakers have rigged the formula to protect them from sanctions for dropouts in the future.

“Beginning with this academic school year, 2016-17, lawmakers enacted four additional exclusions to the withdrawal rate calculations. They are the following, as outlined in statute and in the charter report:

(1) Students who regularly failed to participate in courses who are withdrawn under the procedures adopted by the school.

(2) Students no longer qualified under State law to attend a North Carolina public school, including relocation to another state.

(3) Students who: (i) withdraw from school because of a family, personal, or medical reason, and (ii) notify the school of the reason for withdrawal.

(4) Students who withdraw from school within the first 30 days following the date of enrollment.
These new exclusions provide the virtual charter schools exceptional latitude in allowing them to exclude nearly anyone who drops out of the online schools from actually being counted in the withdrawal rates going forward. That means it’s possible that the virtual charters will demonstrate a significant drop in withdrawal rates after this first year—even though those figures may not be truly capturing the full scope of who is leaving the programs.”

Bottom line, legislators don’t want to hold virtual charter schools accountable for attendees, attrition, or performance. Someone should check the state records and review campaign contributions from employees and associates of these companies.

Although Donald Trump won Noth Carolina, Democrats made some important gains.

Although Republicans retained supermajorities in both houses of the legislature, Democrat Roy Cooper holds a small lead over incumbent Republican Governor Pat McCrory.

“Cooper claimed victory and it’s unlikely that a canvass and the counting of provisional ballots will change the result.

“Cooper is likely to face a Republican state House and Senate next year emboldened by their victories with one notable exception, their support of the anti-LGBT law HB2 that has written discrimination into the law and cost North Carolina tens of thousands of jobs while damaging the state’s reputation around the world.

“Cooper ran hard against HB2 and blasted McCrory for supporting it as businesses cancelled planned expansions or bypassed North Carolina and sporting events left the state in droves.

“It is not an exaggeration to suggest that McCrory didn’t really lose the governor’s race Tuesday night, he lost it last March when he signed HB2 into law in the dark of night after lawmakers passed it in a rushed special session, setting off a firestorm of protest and outrage across the county.”

In addition, Democrat Josh Stein was elected Attorney General of the state.

“There was one other important silver lining for Democrats. They gained control of the N.C Supreme Court as Superior Court Judge Mike Morgan defeated incumbent Supreme Court Justice Bob Edmunds for the only seat up for election this year. Partisan labels were not listed with those candidates.”

Looks like the Tea Party General Assembly will have to deal with a Democratic Governor and Attorney General.

Stuart Egan, a Nationally Board Certified Teacher in North Carolina, writes here with advice for voters who care about public schools.

He warns voters not to believe the claims made by Governor McCrory and the General Assembly. They have done nothing to help schools and teachers. They are determined to destroy what was once a highly acclaimed public education system.

He writes:

North Carolina’s situation may be no different than what other states are experiencing, but how our politicians have proceeded in their attempt to dismantle public education is worth noting. The list below is not by any means complete, but it paints a clear picture.

Removal of due-process rights – This keeps teachers from being able to advocate for schools.

Graduate Degree Pay Bumps Removed – Removed a means for teachers to invest in their profession.

Standard 6 – Teacher evaluation protocols are arbitrary at best

Push for Merit Pay – Never has worked in education. Besides, all teachers assume duties outside of teaching.

“Average” Raises – Average and Actual do not mean the same thing.

Attacks on Teacher Advocacy Groups – specifically NCAE.

Revolving Door of Standardized Tests – And many of the tests are made and graded by for-profit entities.

Less Money Spent per Pupil – NC still has not approached pre-recession levels.

Remove Caps on Class Sizes – Teachers are teaching more students and sometimes more class sections.

Jeb Bush School Grading System – This actually only shows how poverty affects public education.

Cutting Teacher Assistants – Hurts elementary kids the most.

Opportunity Grants – A Voucher scheme that profits private and religious schools.

Unregulated growth of charter schools – No empirical data shows any improvement in student achievement with charter schools.

Virtual Schools – These are hemorrhaging in enrollment.

Achievement School Districts – Again, an idea that profits a few and has no successful track record.

Reduction of Teacher Candidates in Colleges – We are lacking in numbers to help supply the next generation of teachers for a growing state.

Elimination of Teaching Fellows Program – Another way to discourage bright students from becoming teachers.

Egan says it is time to hold these scoundrels accountable.

There is only one way to do that: at the ballot box.

State officials may close the Hope Charter Leadership Academy in Raleigh due to persistently poor academic performance.

“A high-poverty Raleigh charter school is in danger of being ordered to shut down by the state at the end of the school year due to its low test scores and lack of academic growth among its students.

“The N.C. Charter Schools Advisory Board voted Thursday to require the leadership of Hope Charter Leadership Academy to show up at the group’s November meeting with a comprehensive plan to improve academic performance. The vote came after advisory board members decided to hold off on recommending that the State Board of Education take away Hope’s charter at the end of the school year.

“Last school year, Hope’s passing rate on state exams was 26.5 percent, the school didn’t meet growth and it received a “F” school performance grade. Fifth-grade state exam passing rates of 10.5 percent in reading and 5.3 percent in math were called unacceptable.

“These scores are horrible,” said advisory board member Steven Walker as he repeatedly banged his hand on the table. “You’re talking about one kid in 5th-grade passing math, one kid.”

Read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/education/wake-ed-blog/article108108117.html#storylink=cpy

Reading this sad story reminds me of a hopeful book I read years ago: “Hope and Despair in the American City: Why There Are No Bad Schools in Raleigh,” by Syracuse University scholar Gerald Grant.

Grant wrote not so many years ago that Raleigh had a successful school system because it adopted a carefully crafted plan to desegregate its schools. Not long after his book was published, a Tea Party faction gained control of the school board and hired one of Michelle Rhee’s deputies to restore segregated neighborhood schools. He was Broad-trained superintendent Anthony Tata. When the Tea Party group lost in the next election, Tata was out but Raleigh did not recover. The state Tea a Party swept the state legislature in 2010, and North Carolina began its race to the bottom, adopting charter schools, virtual schools, and vouchers, while cutting away teacher professionalism and job protections. The state that once boasted the largest number of NBCT teachers in the nation began to fund TFA instead of investing in its career teachers.

A sad story.

Hoping Governor Pat McGrory and his merry band of legislative allies take a whupping at the polls next month so North Carolinians can start to rebuild their public schools.

Stuart Egan, an NBCT high school teacher in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, wrote an open letter to the Republican candidate for State Superintendent, Mark Johnson. Johnson is 32 years old. He worked for two years as a Teach for America teacher. He was elected to the Winston-Salem school board and is only halfway through his first term.

Egan writes:

Dear Mr. Johnson,

I read with great interest your essay posted on EdNC.org entitled “Our American Dream” on September 7th. Because you are a member of the school board from my own district and the republican nominee for State Superintendent, I was eager to read/see/hear what might distinguish you from Dr. Atkinson.

I agree that there is a lot to be done to help cure what ails our public education system, and I agree that we should not be reliant on so many tests in order that teachers can do what they are trained to do – teach. I also positively reacted to your stance on allowing local school boards to have more say in how assessment portfolios are conducted and focusing more resources on reading instruction in elementary grades.

However, I did not read much else that gives me as a voter the immediate impetus to rely on you to lead our public schools, specifically your words on student preparedness, the role of poverty, and school funding. In fact, many of the things you say about the current state of education in this op-ed make you seem more like a politician trying to win a race rather than becoming a statewide instructional leader.

You opening paragraph seems to set a tone of blame. You stated,

“Politicians, bureaucrats, and activists are quick to proffer that public education is under assault in North Carolina. They angrily allege attacks on the teaching profession; furiously fight against school choice; and petulantly push back against real reform for our education system. But why is there no comparable outrage that last June, thousands of high school seniors received diplomas despite being woefully unprepared for college or the workforce?”

In truth, many politicians and bureaucrats have engaged in attacks on the public school system and its teachers. Just look at the unregulated growth of charter schools, the rise of Opportunity Grants, and the creation of an ASD district. Look at the removal of due-process rights and graduate pay for new teachers.

Not only am I a teacher, but I am a parent of two children in public schools, a voter in local school board elections, and an activist. I have fought against school choice as it has been defined on West Jones Street with Opportunity Grants and charter schools because it has come at the expense of traditional public schools that still teach a vast majority of our kids.

And I would like to hear what you think real reforms are. Your op-ed would have been a great place to outline (not just mention) some of those reforms.

Johnson claimed in his statement:

“The education establishment and its political allies have one answer that they have pushed for the past 40 years – more money for more of the same.”

Egan asks:

First, I need for you to define “same.” In the years I have been in NC, I have been through many curriculum standards, evaluation systems, pay scales, NCLB, Race to the Top, etc. Secondly, who is the educational establishment? The people I see dictate policy in schools on West Jones Street certainly are not the same people who were crafting policy ten years ago. And less than fifteen years ago, North Carolina was considered the best, most progressive public school system in the Southeast. Is that part of the “same” you are referring to?

It is a brilliant dissection of the usual rightwing claims about our public schools. It is sad that many TFA alums have aligned themselves with Tea Party Republicans, as Johnson has.

Stuart Egan demonstrates once again why tenure matters. It protects his freedom to speak.