Forsyth County high school teacher Stuart Egan, whose open letter critiquing a legislative plan to turn struggling public schools over to for-profit charter school operators got a great deal of deserved attention last month, has penned another “must read.” This one is a detailed and lengthy response to a recent essay by State Rep. Jon Hardister of Guilford County in which Hardister attempted to argue that the state’s conservative political leadership has not been waging “a war on public education.”

After debunking several of Hardister’s claims about education spending (which, as Egan notes, continues to fall when one accounts for enrollment growth), Egan offers the following list of recent state actions vis a vis public schools:

  • The financing of failed charter schools that have no oversight.
  • The funding of vouchers (Opportunity Grants) that effectively remove money for public education and reallocate it to private 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 dismantling of the Teaching Fellows Program that recruited our state’s brightest to become the teachers of our next generation.
  • The removal of the cap for class size for traditional schools and claiming it will not impede student learning.
  • The removal of graduate pay salary increases for those new teachers who have a Master’s degree or higher.
  • The administration of too many tests (EOCTs, MSLs, CCs, NC Finals, etc.), many of which are scored well after grades are due.
  • 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 and no-bid contracts with entities like Pearson that dictate not only what teachers are allowed to teach but also how students are assessed.

All in all, Egan’s essay is a powerful, if sobering, read. Click here to read it in its entirety.


It’s bad enough that North Carolina will be turning over the future of thousands of its children and tens of millions in taxpayer dollars to a predatory Wall Street company in the name of “school choice,” but this morning’s report from NC Policy Watch reporter Lindsay Wagner that state officials have waived attendance taking requirements for the state’s new “virtual charter schools” is simply and absudly beyond the pale. This is from Wagner’s story:

“The North Carolina State Board of Education quietly approved a policy last month that could allow the state’s two brand new virtual charter schools to avoid recording and reporting daily student attendance, and stipulates that the virtual schools would only lose their state funding for a student if he or she fails to show any “student activity,” —as defined by the for-profit charter operators—for at least ten consecutive days….

Previously the online virtual charter schools, which are taking part in a pilot program authorized by the legislature last year and set to begin this fall, would have had to record daily student attendance using the state’s online reporting software—like traditional brick and mortar public schools—to comply with compulsory attendance laws.

Via conference calls before the start of school in late August, both the Charter School Advisory Board and the State Board of Education quickly approved a new policy that doesn’t require the virtual schools to record and report daily student attendance to the Department of Public Instruction.

That change came at the behest of officials with the North Carolina Virtual Academy, the school backed by controversial for-profit online school operator K12, Inc., who complained to state officials that recording and reporting daily student attendance through the online reporting software that traditional schools use didn’t work for them, according to DPI’s interim director of the state’s charter school office Adam Levinson.”

The story goes on to explain that while schools will be required to monitor “student activity,” the requirement is vague and basically left up to the schools themselves. In Michigan, where such laissez faire policy was in effect, the results were predictably dreadful.

The bottom line: The move to sell off our public schools to the privatizers and corporate vultures continues apace. Read the entire story by clicking here.


Last week, the News & Observer’s Linda Darnell Williams contextualized the prospect of resegregation in Wake County Schools—which, as media reports have recently noted, is an increasingly real proposition not only in Wake County but around the country as deliberate efforts to diversify student populations in the wake of Brown v. Board of Ed begin to wane.

The news that Wake County is backing away from its diversity policy is “very sad,” [New York Times magazine reporter Nicole] Hannah-Jones said in a recent conversation. She noted that Wake’s economic diversity policy was held up as a national model.

Any move toward resegregation is distressing, she said, because “the record is very clear that when districts resegregate, education plummets without exception.”

All Wake has to do, she said, is look at Charlotte, which rapidly saw more racial segregation in schools after it was released from court-ordered busing.

The N&O’s Keung Hui recently reported that Wake County has seen a doubling in the number of racially-isolated and high poverty schools, which have increased by more than 150 percent in the last seven years.

In 2010 and 2011, a Republican-dominated Wake school board made changes that undid parts of a decade-old busing system intended to make Wake’s schools more diverse. Previously the county assigned students to schools sometimes far away from home in an effort to limit high concentrations of low-income student populations inside one school building.  Citing parental frustration over children attending schools far from home, the board dropped the socioeconomic diversity requirement from the county’s school assignment policy and adopted a ‘choice model’ that continued to cause confusion and controversy.

Today, Wake’s school board is now dominated by Democrats — but its members appear to be unwilling to reverse the previous board’s decisions. Citing the tumult parents parents and students endured from the old school assignment policies, the board seems to favor pouring more money into low-performing schools—which, as Keung reports, typically have high numbers of students from low-income families.

Darnell Williams says she’s worried that efforts to redirect extra resources to these newly resegregated schools won’t ultimately be a promise that’s kept.

Instead of taking action to foster integration, lawmakers and many school leaders promise additional resources to schools with concentrations of poor and minority students. The evidence is not convincing that sufficient resources are forthcoming. Talk of volunteers reading to low-income students is laudable, but it won’t have the impact of smaller classes and highly qualified teachers – resources that cost money.

Within the context of resegregation, it’s important to highlight the fact that North Carolina has entered into a new phase of school accountability. Schools are now awarded letter grades ranging from A-F based largely on students’ performance on standardized tests. Schools that perform poorly don’t get extra resources in this new system; they just get a slap on the wrist by way of requiring them to send a letter to parents informing them of their failing grades.

There’s a distinct correlation between racially isolated, high poverty schools and the likelihood they’ll receive a D or F from the state. Countless studies document the fact that poorer students perform worse than their richer counterparts on standardized tests. As such, schools with greater concentrations of low-income students will have a hard time getting As or Bs, unless lawmakers decide to change the metric to favor how students grow over time, rather than their performance on a test on only one day.

And when talking resegregation, also worth flagging is this: while North Carolina sees more and more predominantly high poverty schools reenter the picture, Rep. Rob Bryan is working behind the scenes on a proposal to allow for-profit charter school operators to take over failing public schools. While some say new approaches are necessary to interrupt the cycle of schools failing poor kids, others are concerned that allowing charter operators with fewer accountability requirements could do more harm than good.

Could a lack of willingness to keep schools diverse give way to to the privatization of North Carolina’s worst-performing schools?

Stay tuned.


Citing feelings that “DPI was never in love with charter schools,” last month Senator Jerry Tillman (R-Randolph) gutted a House bill penned by Rep. Charles Jeter (R-Mecklenburg) and used it to put forth his own bid to move the Office of Charter Schools out of the Department of Public Instruction and to the State Board of Education.

The House’s reaction to that chess move? A resounding ‘no.’

Rep. Jeter asked his fellow House members Tuesday not to concur with the Senate’s proposal—and they voted unanimously against concurrence, sending the bill to a conference committee to sort through the disagreement.

Tillman, who has previously expressed frustration over what he sees as too slow a pace to green light new charter schools, proposed not only moving the charter school office out of DPI, he also sought to tinker yet again with the advisory board that reviews new charter school proposals. Tillman’s version of HB 334 would strip the Governor of his ability to appoint the board’s chair and disallow a sitting State Board of Ed member from being part of the panel.

“We don’t want them ‘loving it up,’” said Tillman of the idea of current State Board of Education members serving on the charter advisory board. His proposal would relegate that person to serving as a nonvoting member and allow the State Board to instead appoint a “charter advocate” to serve.

Sen. Josh Stein (D-Wake) objected to Tillman’s bid last month, raising concerns about the ability of the State Board of Education to exercise proper oversight and monitoring of charter schools.

For more background, read my story, “Senate bill proposes ending DPI control of charter school oversight.”

Commentary, News

School-vouchers1. State’s highest court upholds school voucher program despite lack of accountability and standards

In a 4-3 decision that defies principles of accountability to taxpayers and students alike, the elected Republican justices of the state Supreme Court today upheld a school voucher program that allows taxpayer dollars to fund tuition for private schools having virtually no obligation to provide North Carolina students with even a basic education.

Chief Justice Mark Martin, writing for the majority and joined by Justices Robert Edmunds, Paul Newby and Barbara Jackson, couched the opinion in terms of judicial restraint and deference to the legislature, saying that the court’s role was “limited to a determination of whether the legislation is plainly and clearly prohibited by the constitution.” [Continue reading…]

Tillman_edu2. Senate bill proposes ending DPI control of charter school oversight

Administration and oversight for public charter schools has been handled by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction for years — but Senator Jerry Tillman, a longtime supporter of charter schools, wants to change that.

“DPI was never in love…with charter schools,” Sen. Tillman (R-Randolph) said in a Senate Education Committee hearing on Tuesday as he introduced to fellow lawmakers a gutted version of House Bill 334, which would transfer the Office of Charter Schools out of the Department of Public Instruction, placing it under the State Board of Education. [Continue reading…]

ff-723153. Still no urgency in Raleigh with budget almost a month late 

At first glance, it seemed like just another disturbing week at the General Assembly.

A Senate committee approved a plan to give homebuilders a tax break that will cost local governments millions of dollars a year, another Senate committee passed a bill to weaken the state’s already anemic gun laws, and another panel considered a proposal to block state environmental officials from developing plans to cut carbon emissions in response to forthcoming rules from the EPA.

That’s all sadly business as usual these days in the legislative halls. And it didn’t stop there. [Continue reading…]

budget-pie4. State government shutdown ahead? Budget office gets ready for possibility

A memorandum from the state budget office issued earlier this month asks state agencies to let them know what’s essential and what’s not, in the event a budget stalemate leads to a government shutdown.

The July 14 memorandum (scroll down to read) asks agencies to go through their operations, and report back about public safety and essential services need to continue on in the event of a funding stoppage –things like keeping on the staff who feed animals at the N.C. State Zoo, emergency responders in the highway patrol and prison guards.[Continue reading…]

wb-721B5. A $60 million rip-off
The state Treasurer combats a stunning money grab by the insurance industry

If there’s a single most maddening and nonsensical argument regularly advanced by the far right, so-called “free market” think tanks funded by the Art Popes and Koch Brothers of the world, it’s probably this: the ideology-over-common sense contention that the “genius of the market” makes most consumer protection laws unnecessary.

Whether it’s airplane pilot rest, meat inspections or 400% “payday” loans, it’s generally the position of the market fundamentalists that “the market” and “consumer choice” will pretty much take care of everything. Put bluntly, once a cut rate airliner or two goes down (or a few hundred folks contract salmonella or Mad Cow Disease) consumers will wise up and take their business elsewhere. [Continue reading…]