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NCGA folliesThe follies of the North Carolina General Assembly and its shortsighted attitudes toward public education (and public service in general) are neatly illustrated by two stories in this morning’s Winston-Salem Journal.

In “Who’s a teacher? The legislature wrongly decides,” reporter Scott Sexton tells the story of  veteran teacher named Patti Morrison who, because of the absurd, complex and bureaucratic new teacher pay plan and teacher redefinition laws adopted this year by the General Assembly and Governor McCrory, is now considered “a person who is employed to fill a full-time, permanent position.”

As Sexton reports:

“So for someone such as Morrison, who is teaching reading to elementary school kids on a part-time basis, or a certified teacher who is filling a temporary classroom position, that means they’re technically no longer considered teachers.

Instead, they’re lumped into a more disposable employment category. They’re now considered ‘at-will employees,’ those ‘not entitled to the employment protections provided a career employee or probationary teacher,’ according to House Bill 719.

That might seem like an exercise in semantics to you or me, but to Morrison it amounts to a body blow. To her, the state stripped her of a key part of her identity. She chose to become a teacher because she could see the profound impact she could have on young lives.”

Story two is this editorial entitled “Paying more than twice as much, thanks to legislature.”  In it, the Journal tells the ridiculous story of the Forsyth County school system which used to make use of a Department of Transportation crew to fix parking lots. Now, thanks to the General Assembly and the Governor and their never-ending commitment to the “genius of the free market,” the school system is paying twice as much to private contractors to do the same job:

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News

As the Wilmington Star News reports this morning, the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction has told Baker Mitchell’s Charter Day School, Inc. to turn over required salary information of face the possibility of sanctions. This is from a letter from DPI chief financial officer Phillip Price:

We have reviewed your submission in response to my August 13, 2014, request for specific salary information for your EMO/CMO employees reassigned to work directly with a charter school. The provided information was incomplete and does not contain the requested details outlined by my letter.

Our request is for the actual individual salary detail for all EMO/CMO employees assigned to work at the charter school. As outlined in my letter and in Paragraph 12.1 of your charter document, compliance to this request is required based on enacted legislation and the chartering documents for operation of charter schools. Failure to comply with these requirements is considered a violation of the Uniform Education Reporting System (UERS) and will result in financial non-compliance per State Board of Education policy TCS-U-006. Failure to comply is also a violation of the provisions of your charter.

The letter goes on to say that if the information is not received by next Wednesday, the noncompliance will be reported to the State Board of Education for possible sanctions.

As has been reported by NC Policy Watch here and on several other occasions and, more recently, by the national nonprofit news service ProPublica, Baker Mitchell is a controversial conservative activist and businessman whose “nonprofit” charter schools are run completely by a for-profit company he controls.

Click here to read the DPI letter.

Commentary

The national nonprofit news site Pro Publica has a lead story out of North Carolina this morning about Baker Mitchell — the arch-conservative political operative who runs a chain of charter schools. This is the lead from the story, which is also front-paged this morning on Raleigh’s News & Observer:

“Baker Mitchell is a politically connected North Carolina businessman who celebrates the power of the free market. Every year, millions of public education dollars flow through Mitchell’s chain of four nonprofit charter schools to for-profit companies he controls.”

The story goes on to explain in great detail (much of it previously reported on NC Policy Watch) about how Mitchell has figured out a way to merge his right-wing political views with a skill for making boatloads of money at the public trough.

All in all, it is another powerful indictment of how the originally benign phenomenon of charter schools has been largely captured by the far right and money grubbers and thereby corrupted and perverted.

Read the entire story by clicking here.

Commentary

In case you missed it, the Associated Press is reporting new and disturbing news (click here to see the article in the Greensboro News & Record) about the impact that the nation’s mushrooming economic divide between the rich and everyone else is having on education:

Education is supposed to help bridge the gap between the wealthiest people and everyone else. Ask the experts, and they’ll count the ways:

Preschool can lift children from poverty. Top high schools prepare students for college. A college degree boosts pay over a lifetime. And the U.S. economy would grow faster if more people stayed in school longer.

Plenty of data back them up. But the data also show something else:

Wealthier parents have been stepping up education spending so aggressively that they’re widening the nation’s wealth gap. When the Great Recession struck in late 2007 and squeezed most family budgets, the top 10 percent of earners — with incomes averaging $253,146 — went in a different direction: They doubled down on their kids’ futures.

Their average education spending per child jumped 35 percent to $5,210 a year during the recession compared with the two preceding years — and they sustained that faster pace through the recovery. For the remaining 90 percent of households, such spending averaged around a flat $1,000, according to research by Emory University sociologist Sabino Kornrich.

“People at the top just have so much income now that they’re easily able to spend more on their kids,” Kornrich said.

The article continues:

The disparity in spending patterns creates a hurdle for reducing income inequality through additional education — the preferred solution of many economists.

Thomas Piketty, the French economist whose exploration of tax data helped expose the wealth gap, has argued that education “is the most powerful equalizing force in the long run.”

In short, the article provides a sobering confirmation of what critics have long been saying about the conservative movement’s successful, decades-long campaign to disinvest in and privatize our public education system — namely, that it’s expediting the demise of our middle class society.

Commentary

slowdownThis morning’s editorial in Raleigh’s News & Observer gets it right on the state Board of Education’s plan to approve two new “virtual” charter schools. The central message: “Not so fast!”

Charters were seen initially as a chance to be “laboratories” for public education, as places to cultivate innovations that could be used in conventional schools. But too many charter advocates have viewed them as “alternative” schools, almost private schools funded by the public. Now that there’s no limit on the number of charter schools North Carolina can have, Republicans seem inclined to invite an almost unlimited number to open without knowing whether they’re succeeding.

The state needs to more closely oversee and evaluate the charters that exist before going in to the Brave New World of online-only charters.

The N&O’s conclusion is pretty self-evident — especially if you’ve read any of NC Policy Watch’s reporting on the scoundrels at the for-profit virtual charter company, K12, Inc. But if you have any doubts, check out this in-depth report from earlier this year by a team of experts at the National Education Policy Center. According to the authors:

“Despite considerable enthusiasm for virtual education in some quarters, there is little credible research to support virtual schools’ practices or to justify ongoing calls for ever-greater expansion.”

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