Commentary

Teacher pens open letter, op-ed defending public education

Forsyth County high school teacher Stuart Egan has a couple of “must reads” you should check out this morning.

Number One is this open letter from the main N.C. Policy Watch site to State Rep. Paul Stam in which he dissects some of Stam’s recent comments about what’s needed in our public schools. Here’s Egan on Stam’s call to evaluate teachers and pay the “best” ones more:

“You said in the interview that ‘we do not pay our best teachers enough and we pay our ‘unbest’ teachers too much.’

I have not really heard the terms ‘best’ and ‘unbest’ used on actual teacher evaluations and would very much like to hear what how such labels might be applied in the real world. But I believe you are touching on teacher effectiveness and teacher evaluations as currently measured by the state.

The problem with teacher evaluation processes in the state of North Carolina is that they are arbitrary at best. No one single protocol has been used to measure teacher effectiveness in your tenure as a legislator. That’s because there has not been one that accurately reflects teacher performance. In fact, during your tenure in Raleigh we have switched curriculum and evaluation protocols multiple times. It seems that teachers are always having to measure up to ever-changing standards that no one can seem to make stand still, much less truly evaluate.”

Click here to read the rest of of the letter.

Number Two is an op-ed in this morning’s Winston-Salem Journal debunking the hokum state leaders have been peddling on the subject of vouchers and charter schools. Again, here’s Egan::

“The original idea for charter schools was a noble one. Diane Ravitch, in ‘Reign of Error,’ states that these schools were designed to seek ‘out the lowest-performing students, the dropouts, and the disengaged, then ignite their interest in education’ in order ‘to collaborate and share what they had learned with their colleagues and existing schools.’

But those noble intentions have been replaced with profit-minded schemes. Read more

Commentary

Open letter from teacher takes Dan Forest to task on charter schools

West Forsyth High School teacher Stuart Egan has penned another open letter to a prominent state official on the subject of public education in North Carolina. This time, the letter is directed to Lt. Governor (and State Board of Education member) Dan Forest and relates to Forest’s recent comments regarding the North Carolina Charter School Report released by the Department of Public Instruction. Click here to access some of Egan’s previous on-the-money efforts.

“Lt. Gov. Forest,

I read with great interest two news articles just published concerning the recent NC Charter School report prepared by the Department of Public Instruction. Both Ann Doss Helms’s article in the Charlotte Observer (“The sausage factory…”) and Lynn Bonner’s piece in Raleigh’s News and Observer (“Charter schools in NC less diverse…”) state that you requested the report be revised because it did not have, as you say, “a lot of positive things to say.”

You claim in Helms’s article that the report could be “the fuel that the media uses for the next year to criticize whatever we’re doing.” However, what really seems to be the issue is that you simply did not like that report shows what is already known (and even verified by an April 2015 study by Helen Ladd, Charles Clodfelter, and John Holbein of Duke University). That fact is that many of the charter schools you have enabled are perpetuating segregation and are not accomplishing what you advertised they would do.

Yet, instead of accepting the report for its contents and moving to remedy what it reveals, you requested that it be edited and amended because you did not like what it said. You demanded that the SBOE not honor these findings of academic research based on hard data and the logical conclusions that come from them.

That’s not the leadership we North Carolinians need from our Lt. Governor and a ranking member of the State Board of Education; it’s simply placing personalities before principles.

If I used your illogical reasoning, I should also be able to “revise” a lot of issues that I deem are “too negative.” I could even extend that line of thought to my personal life. I could demand my doctor to revise my health screenings to show that I have the body of a triathlete. I could have my transcripts be rewritten to show that I am a summa cum laude graduate of a top tier school. I could even send back those Powerball tickets I bought this past weekend to reflect the winning numbers. But, alas, I cannot change the truth.

Read more

Commentary

Editorial: Voucher ruling leaves parents, public in a fog (with audio)

A week after the state Supreme Court ruled that school vouchers were constitutional, the Rocky Mount Telegram writes it’s time for parents to ask some hard questions about the enacted “Opportunity Scholarship” program.

The editorial board writes in Friday’s paper:

School vouchersPublic schools in the Twin Counties alone have plenty of kids who would benefit from a $4,200 per-pupil stipend every year to attend a private school. Almost 70 percent of the 16,000 students in Nash-Rocky Mount Public Schools and 85 percent of the 7,500 students in Edgecombe County Public Schools are on a free or reduced price lunch program. If just a quarter of all of those students applied for vouchers, where would the state find money for them? And how would a financially decimated public school system pick up the pieces and move on to educate the rest of our kids?

Those are real issues that school boards and superintendents in systems all over the state will have to wrestle with in the very near future.

While those folks are struggling with finances, parents would be smart to ask some questions, also. For example, how does academic performance at the private school I’m considering compare to performance at the public school where my child is currently enrolled?

Good luck finding an apples-to-apples answer to that. Private schools don’t have to test kids by curriculum standards required of public schools by the N.C. Department of Public Instruction. Educators in private schools don’t even have to be certified by anyone to teach.

If the N.C. General Assembly is going to require standardized testing in public schools as part of its accountability policy, shouldn’t it require the same of private schools where voucher recipients are spending public tax dollars?

The Supreme Court might have cleared the air on vouchers in North Carolina, but the remaining questions are likely to leave us in the fog for a while to come.

For more on the recent voucher ruling, listen to Chris Fitzsimon’s Friday radio commentary:

Commentary

Editorials blast voucher ruling

Last week’s ruling that North Carolina tax dollars may be used to support private schools with literally no standards of accountability at all has generated some scathing editorials from the state’s major newspapers. Here are a few excerpts:

From Raleigh’s News & Observer:

“It is distressing on its face, this idea that public money can go toward the expenses of private schooling. It crosses the divide between public and private, between church and state, between common sense and partisan ideology.

And yet, in a ruling with a clear partisan flavor, the North Carolina Supreme Court, having snatched the confrontation over a school voucher program out of the hands of the N.C. Court of Appeals where it should properly have gone, has upheld the Republican legislature’s voucher program. This is a devastating ruling for the future of public education.”

From the Greensboro News & Record:

“In 1997, the N.C. Supreme Court unanimously delivered its landmark Leandro ruling that declared the state has an obligation to offer every child a “sound, basic education.”

In a 4-3 decision Thursday, the court regrettably took a big step back from that principle, finding that the state’s Opportunity Scholarship Program is constitutional.”

From the Fayetteville Observer (after noting that it does not oppose vouchers):

“That said, we do have a deep concern about the lack of accountability in the voucher program, an issue raised in Justice Robin Hudson’s dissent. ‘The main constitutional flaw in this program,’ she wrote, ‘is that it provides no framework at all for evaluating any of the participating schools’ contribution to public purposes; such a huge omission is a constitutional black hole into which the entire program should disappear.’

The investment of tax dollars must be accompanied by accountability. The General Assembly needs to remedy that problem. If it does, we expect the voucher program to improve the lot of some students who otherwise might fall into the cracks and never see success.”

Stay tuned. There will be lots more like this to come.
News

Breaking news: N.C Supreme Court rules in school voucher case, vouchers allowed

The N.C. Supreme Court ruled that public dollars can be used for vouchers that allow low-income children to attend private schools in North Carolina, in a ruling released late Thursday afternoon.

That will mean that funding will continue for the voucher program this upcoming school year.

In the 55-page opinion released late Thursday afternoon, N.C. Chief Justice Mark Martin said that the legislation creating the vouchers did not overtly counter the state’s constitution, and therefore the court could not rule the program unconstitutional.

“Our constitutionally assigned role is limited to a determination of whether the legislation is plainly and clearly prohibited by the constitution,” Martin wrote. “Because no prohibition in the constitution or in our precedent forecloses the General Assembly’s enactment of the challenged legislation here, the trial court’s order declaring the legislation unconstitutional is reversed.”

You can read the full decision, including the dissents, here.

Opponents of the measure had argued that the private school vouchers drain needed resources for public schools, and that it violated the state constitution to send public money to unaccountable private schools that are often religious in nature and can pick and choose (or discriminate against) their students.

Proponents, on the other hand, said the “opportunity scholarships” offered a needed educational choice to poor families unable to afford private schooling on their own.

For background, read this excerpt from an earlier article from N.C. Policy Watch reporter Sharon McCloskey:

In December 2013, groups that included taxpayers and the state and local school boards filed two separate lawsuits, alleging that the law violates state constitutional provisions requiring the expenditure of public funds exclusively for public schools, and contending that a voucher program wholly devoid of standards fails to meet the state’s obligation to provide all children with a “sound basic education” and thus does not satisfy the constitution’s “public purpose” provision.

[Superior Court]Judge Hobgood agreed with the challengers and temporarily blocked implementation of the program this past August, but state appellate courts later allowed monies to flow to families already approved for vouchers for the current school year while the cases proceeded in the courts.

The Supreme Court has likewise allowed the application process for vouchers next year to move forward while it considers the appeal.