Bill put forth in the NCGA is another slap in the face to North Carolina educators

Another day, another screw you by the legislature in Raleigh. The always brilliant NCGA has decided in their infinite wisdom to give public school workers in North Carolina a raise. Not one penny.

Many of you probably know what this means, but let me break it down for you just in case.
– This means that the starting salary will be staying at $35,000.
– This means that veteran educators still do not even get a step raise.
– This means the pay scale still tops out at $52,000.
– This means still no advanced pay for an advanced degree
– This means our ESPs still will not earn $15 per hour like other state employees.
– This means the statewide bus driver shortage will continue.

I’m angry. You should be as well.

The question is, what are you going to do about it?

Ascend Leadership Academy

North Carolina’s newest segregation academy is in Lee County

Back in January of this year, I wrote a post warning public education advocates to look at the record of politicians instead of just their political party. This was in part due to the fact that the Mayor of Sanford, North Carolina is a Democrat who took part in a photo op at the first charter school in Lee County, Ascend Leadership Academy (ALA). Having worked in Lee County Schools for two years I was confident that I knew the demographic breakdown of the school district, approximately 33% Black, 33% White, 33% Latinx with upwards of 66% of those students dealing with poverty at home.

So naturally, I found it suspicious when much of the promotions that ALA put out featured majority white students. I specifically remember making the remark to a friend, “The only classes that we have that are that white are our AIG classes.” Yes, I recognize how problematic that statement is, the truth of that statement was undeniable then, and it would not surprise me if it was still true this school year.

Luckily for us, but unluckily for the segregationists, it is easy to test that hypothesis because they have to report demographic data to the state. The data is quite appalling.

Of the 163 students that attended Ascend Leadership Academy in grades 6-8 last year,

  • 32 (19.6%) were Black
  • 25 (15.3%) were Latinx
  • 1 (0.6%) were Indian
  • 1 (0.6%) were Asian
  • 4 (2.45%) were 2 or more races
  • 100 (61. 3%) were White

61.3%. That should be considered insane. But are we truly surprised?

Just for kicks, after this I went and looked at the data for students classified as EC. There were 12 students in total. A grand total of 7.36%.

Charter schools, as described to us, are supposed to represent the communities that they exist in. ALA certainly does not do this, not even close.

Charter schools are supposed to perform higher on standardized tests correct?

Let’s compare ALA to the rest of the schools in the county looking at that incredibly flawed measurement from the state.

  • East Lee – D (53 reading, 51 math and did not meet growth)
  • West Lee – D (59 reading, 50 math and did not meet growth)
  • Sanlee – C (62 reading, 59 math and met growth)
  • Ascend – D (58 reading, 52 math and did not meet growth)

Even by the flawed measurement from the state of North Carolina, Ascend Leadership Academy has shown no ability to outperform the other schools in Lee County.

Seems to me the only thing it is truly doing is making sure that white parents can send their kids to school with less students of color.

Johnson Denies Appeal: “IStation is the best reading diagnostic tool for North Carolina educators, students and parents.”

Friday news dump comes just two days after Democratic Senators submitted a letter to Senator Berger requesting the creation of select committee to review the DPI’s procurement process.

Late Friday afternoon, North Carolina Superintendent Mark Johnson announced the denial of Amplify’s appeal regarding the decision to award the K-3 reading diagnostic tool to IStation. The Friday news dump comes just two days after Democratic Senators submitted a letter to Senator Berger requesting the creation of a select committee to review DPI’s procurement process.

The released letter begins with an overview, but the real fun starts when looking at the supposed “misstatements of facts.” What caught my eye right away was the claim on page 10 that “Istation is a valid dyslexia screener.” This is despite the fact that Justin Parmenter in a post here, noticed that, “The team that chose Istation specifically referred to the program’s lack of a separate dyslexia component as a weakness of the program (while also holding up Amplify’s dyslexia component as a strength of mClass).” Dr. Chelsea M. Bartel backs this up, “Even if we set aside the concern that identification/matching is a lower-level skill than asking students to produce sounds and words on their own, there are  still glaring concerns regarding Istation’s ability to effectively screen all areas involved in dyslexia.”

In saying that IStation is indeed a valid dyslexia screener, Johnson says that, ” In a telephonic interview of Dr. Joseph Torgesen, one of the top experts in the field of dyslexia, conducted on July 12, 2019, he stated: “I consider this to be as good a screener as any I know of.” “

The problem? Dr. Torgesen has worked for IStation, as an author on Istation’s Early Reading assessment. Could Mark Johnson not find an independent expert on dyslexia? This is just another red flag in this entire process.

The next red flag comes on page 11, where Johnson claims this is a misstatement, “Screen-based assessments are not developmentally appropriate for Kindergarteners and struggling learners.” As an educator who on the first day of school this year, as a third year teacher, will have more classroom experience then our superintendent I was interested in this. I have personally noticed that my students do better on assessments given on paper than they do on screens.

But I digress, Johnson cites, “a recent study of kindergarten students, Putnam (2016) found the level of teacher literacy support with the use of Istation had a statistically significant effect on early literacy achievement” Great! Right? Well…. Parmenter again on this study, “At the end of a study in a section titled “Implications for use of Istation in early literacy education,” Dr. Putnam acknowledges that technology is often seen as a quick fix for literacy problems and calls for more independent research so that it can be incorporated into early childhood classrooms in a way that is healthy for students.”

There will likely be longer analysis of this decision and I highly encourage you to keep an eye out for analysis from Parmenter, Stu Egan, as well as anything from Dr. Bartel.

I fully expect Amplify to appeal to the decision and we will see whether or not Senator Berger will create a committee to analyze the procurement process.

Here are the links for yourself:
Final Decision

One Month Before School Starts: 7,228 Job Openings

And I bet it is even higher.

Corrected as data from Beaufort County, SOUTH Carolina was used instead of Beaufort County, NORTH Carolina. My apologies.

Need to tip my hat to the folks over at SCforEd for this idea. They are looking at the openings across South Carolina in public education each week leading up to when school starts. I am not sure that I’ll be doing updates like they are, but I thought it would be interesting nonetheless.

As of July 23rd, which is approximately one month before school starts for most traditional calendar schools there are 7,228 openings. The list is below. I’m including ALL open positions, because as we know it takes all those positions to properly support our students. This includes coaches, substitutes, transportation, administration and central office people as long as they are listed through the same platform as teachers.

On another note, I’d even suggest that the number is even HIGHER than what I was able to find, many districts will post the same position name for multiple openings.

Congratulations to Clay County, y’all have the least with only 1 opening.

I have five ideas on how to help fill some of those positions:

  1. Enough school librarians, psychologists, social workers, counselors, nurses, and other health professionals to meet national standards
  2. A $15 minimum wage for all school personnel, 5% raise for all ESPs (non-certified staff), teachers, admin, and a 5% cost of living adjustment for retirees
  3. Expanding Medicaid to improve the health of our students and families
  4. Reinstating state retiree health benefits eliminated by the General Assembly in 2017
  5. Restoring advanced degree compensation stripped by the General Assembly in 2013
District NameOpenings – 7/23
Alexander County9
Alleghany County 5
Anson County8
Ashe County8
Asheboro City28
Asheville City89
Avery County5
Beaufort County48
Bertie County15
Bladen County26
Brunswick County66
Buncombe County89
Burke County25
Cabarrus County185
Caldwell County Schools21
Camden County Schools4
Carteret County Public Schools25
Caswell County Schools27
Catawba County Schools77
Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools127
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools295
Chatham County Schools77
Cherokee County School District5
Clay County Schools1
Cleveland County Schools19
Clinton City Schools12
Columbus County Schools19
Craven County Schools127
Cumberland County Schools313
Currituck County Schools43
Dare County Schools21
Davidson County Schools128
Davie County Schools31
Duplin County Schools22
Durham Public Schools242
Edenton-Chowan Schools14
Edgecombe County Public Schools27
Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Public Schools75
Elkin City Schools4
Franklin County Schools53
Gaston County Schools207
Gates County Schools2
Graham County Schools3
Granville County Schools62
Greene County Schools9
Guilford County Schools450
Halifax County Schools26
Harnett County Schools70
Haywood County Schools30
Henderson County Public Schools85
Hertford County Public Schools37
Hickory City Schools12
Hoke County Schools73
Hyde County Schools15
Iredell-Statesville Schools81
Jackson County Schools36
Johnston County Schools296
Jones County Schools7
Kannapolis City Schools52
Lee County Schools85
Lenoir County Schools53
Lexington City Schools35
Lincoln County Schools72
Macon County Schools7
Madison County Schools13
Martin County Schools16
McDowell County Schools26
Mitchell County Schools13
Montgomery County Schools21
Moore County Schools70
Mooresville Graded School District45
Mount Airy City Schools4
Nash-Rocky Mount Schools66
New Hanover County Schools92
Newton-Conover City Schools22
Northampton County Schools14
Onslow County Schools190
Orange County Schools75
Pamlico County Schools7
Pender County Schools110
Perquimans County Schools12
Person County Schools30
Pitt County Schools105
Polk County Schools17
Randolph County Schools110
Richmond County Schools32
Roanoke Rapids Graded School District11
Robeson County Schools0Says 110 but big budget issues here
Rockingham County Schools129
Rowan-Salisbury School System137
Rutherford County Schools43
Sampson County Schools12
Scotland County Schools31
Stanly County Schools57
Stokes County Schools24
Surry County Schools30
Swain County Schools15
Thomasville City Schools7
Transylvania County Schools27
Tyrrell County Schools15
Union County Public Schools80
Vance County Schools27
Wake County Public School System536
Warren County Schools18
Washington County Schools10
Watauga County Schools24
Wayne County Public Schools117
Weldon City Schools17
Whiteville City Schools3
Wilkes County Schools38
Wilson County Schools96
Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools210
Yadkin County Schools6
Yancey County Schools14

New Twist in IStation Controversy, Gun Amendment Not Offered

Amendment Allows Local Control for Reading Assessment

Update: SB-438 as amended would force districts to use local funds if they want to choose a different reading tool, other than IStation.

One of the wonderful things about moving to live in Wake County is being only about 15 minutes from the NC Legislature. As a politics nerd, being so close to where the decisions happen is going to be quiet enjoyable.

The call went out today from the North Carolina chapter of Moms Demand Action to go to the meeting of the NC House of Representatives and wear red. This was to make sure legislators knew that gun control advocates were watching as it was expected the Representative Larry “Give Teachers Guns” Pittman (R-Cabarrus, Rowan) would offer an amendment to a School Safety Bill to allow teachers to carry guns. This is despite the fact that surveys have shown approximately 88% of teachers do not want to carry a gun themself, of have their colleagues carry guns.

What I did not expect to witness was Rep. Graig Meyer (D-Caswell, Orange) offer an amendment to SB-438. This amendment allows for local school districts to choose a reading assessment tool of their choice, and still use the state funding that they would normally receive.

While saying that this does not have much to do with the widespread complaints of DPI’s choice of IStation for our youngest students, it seemed as though the amendment would allow for local districts to keep mClass if they wanted.

After some back and forth with Rep. Horn (R-Union), the amendment passed with all House Democrats voting in favor, along with some Republicans.

This is something to follow as the bill goes back to the Senate. It will be interesting if the Senate allows the amendment to stay in the bill or not.

The actual reason many of us were there was in regards to SB-5 on School Safety. Before the session started, many House Democrats waved to those of us sitting with the Moms Demand Action group as we were all in red. After, the Speaker recognized the group and the chamber applauded. Talk about surprised.

In between though, Rep. Pittman’s amendment was not discussed or voted on by the House. Checking twitter told us that it had been pulled from the calendar, meaning it was not going to be voted on at all.

Was it calls from constituents that kept the amendment from being offered? Was it those of us wearing red in the gallery? I do not know, but I cannot help but feel the actions of people throughout the day, and our presence that evening made a difference.

Time will tell as the bill itself is still on the calendar meaning there is still the opportunity for Pittman’s amendment to get added tomorrow when the House comes back into session at 1pm.

Doug Miskew, Mark Johnson, and Istation

Were political donations a factor?

If Istation thought that by sending cease and desists to public education advocates would scare others, they were wrong.

Richard Collins

I decided to look into Istation’s CFO, Richard H. Collins. I first looked at the campaign finance records and noticed right away that he has donated thousands of dollars to Republicans nationwide dating back years. Many of those donations were to state level Republican parties, but not to the North Carolina Republican Party. NC Senator Thom Tillis received a donation from him to the tune of $2,600 in 2014. The Republican National Committee received two sizable donations from Mr. Collins in 2016. One of $30,000 that was reported on 6/20/2016 and another of $3,400 on 9/27/2016. Now, there are many people who donate thousands of dollars to Republicans, but what is interesting is that on March 30, 2019, Senator Tillis received another donation of $952.38 from Mr. Collins. This will be important later.

Doug Miskew

Now, early in the controversy regarding the Istation vs. Amplify, it was mentioned that Istation’s lobbyist was Doug Miskew so I decided to do some digging around to see what I could turn up regarding him. If Richard Collins donates lots of money to national Republicans, than Mr. Miskew donates plenty at the local North Carolina level. He has donated heavily to North Carolina Republicans over the years with the most recent being $500 to the NC Republican Party in 2016. In 2014, he donated a total of $5,500 to Thom Tillis aligned groups. He also donated $500 to Phil Berger’s son’s campaign for NC-06 in 2013. Remember Mr. Miskew for later as well.

Theresa Kostrzewa

After seeing the donations for Mr. Collins and Mr. Miskew I then looked at the mClass side and Amplify. Theresa Kostrzewa seems to be the NC lobbyist for Amplify and does not appear to have made any donations to North Carolina Republicans and very few nationally. The CEO of Amplify, Larry Berger (no relation to Senator Berger as far as I know), has not donated any money to Republicans according to FEC records and in fact has donated a couple thousand here and there to Democrats over the years.

Mark Johnson

Now, if you have read Justin Parmenter’s post from July 15th you might remember that he looked at the documents that were released related to the FOIA requests. Parmenter noted that the evaluation team selected mClass in December of 2018. They met again on January 8th where Superintendent Mark Johnson made a big speech about, “freeing up more time for teachers to teach and the need to provide them with the right tools. ” Even after this speech, mClass was the choice of the majority.

On February 19th, Superintendent Mark Johnson, held that private event that had many educators angry. This included many of us were not invited along with those who had been uninvited from the event to hold a tweetstorm online. Guess who was invited? Doug Miskew and Theresa Kostrzewa.

Jonathan Sink

Less than a month later, on March 8th, the general counsel for the superintendent, Jonathan Sink, told the team that the procurement process was being cancelled. Jonathan Sink had previously been Deputy General Counsel and Policy Advisor to Speaker Tim Moore. Mr. Sink has since moved on to be the Executive Director of the North Carolina Republican Party.

What really changed between January 8th and March 8th? Did Mark Johnson speak to Doug Miskew at the February 19th event? What about Theresa Kostrzewa?

Kieran Shanahan

The head of the firm that is sent out cease and desists to Justin Parmenter, Amy Jablonski, and Chelsea Bartel is Kieran J. Shanahan. Mr. Shanahan is also well-known in North Carolina Republican circles as he previously held the position of Finance Chair for the NC Republican Chair. He was a delegate to the 2004, 2008, and 2012 Republican National Convention and was the head of the NC Department of Public Safety under Governor Pat McCrory.

The kicker? Barely three weeks after the procurement process was cancelled there is a donation receipt to NC Republican Senator, Thom Tillis, from IStation CFO, Richard H. Collins, for $952.38 on March 30, 2019.

Everything that has been uncovered through the FOIA requests seems to point to this being a dirty process that Superintendent Johnson seemed to want to end with IStation winning the contract. Were political donations a factor?

The Istation Decision Smells Worse

Superintendent Mark Johnson needs to resign

Superintendent Mark Johnson unilaterally signed a contract with Istation to be the new Read to Achieve K-3 reading diagnostic. He disbanded a committee tasked with making the recommendation. No educators were involved in the decision.

As educators, we can smell BS from a mile away and it was later determined that Istation used the same lobbyist as ClassWallet. It was also determined that this lobbyist has also heavily donated to politicians in the North Carolina Republican Party.

I realize at this point that I’m restating information that a lot of people know already thanks to people like Justin Parmenter, Chelsea Bartel, Amy Jablonski, and Stu Egan. It’s just hard to fathom how terrible this decision smells. Money and politics never smell good, but it smells even worse when it involves the lives of our youngest students.

Amy Jablonski was a member of the committee that was disbanded so she has the knowledge of how that went down. Chelsea Bartel and Justin Parmenter were analyzing the information that DPI provided due to numerous freedom of information act requests.

Istation’s response? Silence them with cease and desist orders. Everything that was said was based on information witnessed in person or by citing the documents that DPI released.

If Istation thought that this would help their public relations campaign to force their product down the throat of students and educators, they’re sorely mistaken.

In a twisted sort of way, this whole saga is kind of funny really. Many educators were not the biggest fans of mClass, now, they will take it back in a heartbeat.

With all of this being out in the open, we are far past the point where Superintendent Mark Johnson needs to resign. Educators, and parents, across the state do not trust him or his ability to leader our public school students. Our students deserve better. They deserve better than Mark Johnson.

What Can We Learn From West Virginia?

We cannot allow this latest defeat get us down, instead we must look for lessons we can take from this latest battle.

As I type this, the West Virginia Senate has just finished debating and voting on an education bill that will allow charter schools to enter the state. The famously independent West Virginia had been one of six states that did not have charter school legislation.

This means we are now at a point in this country where only five states: Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Vermont are still without charter school legislation.

The legislation passed today is similar to the bills that caused the educators of West Virginia to go on strike twice, once each year for the past two year. It is telling that this time, the West Virginia legislature sought to pass the bill when school was not in session. How best to get around a teacher strike by bringing the legislation up for a vote when school is not in session? Charter schools are particularly unpopular in West Virginia with 88% of West Virginian’s disagreeing with creating charter schools. It should not surprise anyone then that a proposed amendment to the bill when it was in the West Virginia House to allow the people in individual counties to vote on whether to allow charter schools in their counties was defeated.

Public education supervillain, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos even got in on the action tweeting:

West Virginia has an opportunity to improve education for all & put the needs of students first. Looking forward to seeing bold moves to offer robust options like charter schools & ESAs and support great teachers. Let’s get it done @WVGovernor, @SenCarmichaelWV & @SpeakerHanshaw!— Betsy DeVos (@BetsyDeVosED) May 31, 2019

It should be noted that all Democrats serving in the West Virginia Senate voted against the bill and that they were joined by two Republicans. So it goes that the privatizers of education win another battle in another state. As educators, it is easy for us to grow despondent over the continue attacks on our profession and the lives of our students, especially as the advocacy that we do, we do in addition to our full-time job.

We cannot allow this latest defeat get us down, instead we must look for a lesson or lessons that we can take from this latest battle. Truly speaking, the easiest lesson is this. In order to beat the privatizers we must beat them at the ballot box.

We need to continue to fight for all of our students and explain to their families why and how our fight is also their fight. That what we do, we do for them.

We are committed to making sure ALL our students are successful, in 2020 we need to make sure that our legislators are dedicated to the same commitment.

Reflecting on the ECE Conference

Through working with our state and local affiliates we want to work to provide the support that educators need to survive the early years in the profession.

As I sit here at the airport in Houston waiting for my flight to take me back to Raleigh, I figured now was as good an opportunity as any to reflect on my experiences over the last few days at NEA’s Early Career Educator Training and Strategic Planning Session.

First of all, can we talk about POWER and ENERGY? Y’ALL! It was so powerful to be in a room full of people from ACROSS THE COUNTRY. The energy that educators spanning the country from Maine to Florida to Texas to Arizona to Oregon to Wisconsin was remarkable. NEA brought educators from across the entire width of the country together in Texas.

The focus was on Early Career Educators (ECEs), and right away my mindset was challenged and changed. Prior to this weekend, whenever I thought of ECEs, I automatically thought of those educators ages 21-30ish. NEA staff on site was intentional in reminding us that ECEs also may include those people who have entered into education as a second or third career and to not exclude those who we may automatically assumed were veterans. I also appreciated how NEA made sure to intentionally include ESPs into the conversation because they are vital to the success of our students, schools and communities.

An interesting thing was to see how different states were in different parts of the journey to develop strong systems to support ECEs. There were states like Ohio, with O.N.E, who have been working on developing this for multiple years now, which by the way I recommend checking out. On the other hand, there were states like us in North Carolina who are just now launching our ECE group within our state affiliate of NEA. It was incredibly powerful to see those more developed groups like ONE continuing to work on crafting their message and develop new supports for their educators.

The energy y’all was just amazing though. All of us that spent the weekend in Houston were there because we know that we need to make changes to better support educators newer to the profession and either we want to be the ones to do it, or someone else thinks we can be. The data shows that educators are increasingly leaving the profession for hobs with higher pay and that are perceived to have more respect. Through working with our state and local affiliates we want to work to provide the support that educators need to survive the early years in the profession while also fighting to get the resources that we need to be able to successfully do our job.

Everyone was fired up all weekend. We gained tools and strategies to take back to our states to help recruit, support, and retain ECEs. We formed connections with other ECEs from across the state who we can continue to learn from as we go to our separate states. Those connections will be incredibly powerful and I am so excited to see the actions that all of us take.

Our ECE group in North Carolina is called SYNCED, Supporting Your New Carolina Educators. I am incredibly excited to work with this group to help support ECEs across the state of North Carolina. Connect with us on Facebook here and on Twitter here. Spread the word to other ECEs across the state so they can get plugged in!

Brown v. Board of Ed: The Unfulfilled Promise

We are doing a grave injustice to not just our country, but our students.

This past week marked 65 years since the Supreme Court struck down “separate but equal” public schools as anything but equal. The unanimous opinion delivered by Chief Justice Warren saying that, “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” The anniversary of this ruling also coincided this year with the release of the movie The Best of Enemies telling the story of the integrating of Durham Public Schools here in North Carolina. In the movie, they are talking about desegregating the schools in the 1970s, almost 20 years after the ruling.

While it was a good movie to watch, I was troubled and remained troubled by the lessons that those who are not aware of the current situation that we are faced with in the United States might draw from the movie.

Our schools are some of the most segregated SINCE integration. This is thanks to “school choice” (read – choosing to send your kids to school with more white kid) and opportunity scholarships to private schools.

Durham, the school system the movie is about 19.1% white. The people of Durham County as a whole (as of 2016) are approximately 50.3% white.

My school district, Lee, is approximately 40% white. The people of Lee County as a whole (as of 2015) are approximately 74.9% white. Looking the two private schools in Lee County and a dramatically different picture is painted. Lee Christian School has approximately 388 students in grades PK-12, 86% of which are white. Grace Christian School has approximately 452 students in grades PK-12, 84% of which are white. For the 2018-2019 school year, Lee County had its first charter school open and as it is the first year data based on demographics is not yet available. A second charter school is slated to open in 2020.

Switching back to Durham, Voyager Academy serves approximately 1,347 students in grade K-12, 68% are white. Excelsior Classical Academy serves approximately 576 students in grades K-5, 59% of those students are white. Immaculata Catholic School serves approximately 455 students in grades PK-8, 61% are white.

Think I’m crazy? Just look at a few of the many articles that have been published lately:

Studies have shown that the best way for us to combat ignorance and prejudice is to interact with people that are different from us. By not doing enough to speak out against school segregation, we are doing a grave injustice to not just our country, but our students.

The Brown v. Board of Education ruling has been broadly viewed to be the end of school segregation, when you dig into the numbers, it is striking how false that is. The promise of school integration is still widely unfulfilled, to a depressing degree.