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Just as I was getting ready to begin a weekend of fun with my kids and even look forward to a bit of relaxation here and there, I read this blog entry (see below) by Lee Ann Meredith, a former Chicago Public Schools teacher, which was reposted by the Washington Post with permission.

And then I remembered that for many teachers, including the ones I’ve visited as a reporter and the ones to whom I’m related, the weekend just means more time to catch up on the endless amounts of work that stretch before them—but with more pee breaks.

If you’re reading and comprehending this blog post, then you’ve benefited from having a teacher in your life. Take the time to know eight important things about them that they want everyone to know. And then give a teacher a hand this weekend.

1. We are well-educated and specialists in our field. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 52 percent of public school teachers have a master’s degree or higher.  Many teachers I know have more than one master’s degree with specializations such as reading or special education. We don’t stop learning when we become teachers either. We must reapply for our certificates with proof that we have continued our education and professional growth in our field. Grade-school teachers usually teach all subjects and we must have a strong grasp on the underlying themes. We are wildly knowledgeable in many areas.

2. We are communicators, quick decision makers, and creative problem solvers. Teaching is more than lecturing. It is often like being an orchestra director of beginning musicians. We have to be able to have a group working on task while sitting quietly with another small group of four of five pupils. We have to be able to create a working environment where a couple dozen people share an open space. It has to be done in a caring way that supports every child. This is not easy. Teachers might have to choose over Suzy’s bloody nose, Rupert’s hurt feelings, Trevor’s emotional, tear-filled crisis about a math problem, all while keeping the rest of the class at work. If you think this type of scenario never happens, think again. In primary grades some variation of this happens daily. (Two notes about this. First: Blood trumps everything, even vomit. Second: The crazier the situation is, the more likely a fire drill is about to occur.)

[You think you know what teachers do. Right? Wrong?]

3. We are realistic visionaries. We know what our students can do and we push, push, push some more to make them achieve. We celebrate successes and then push some more. We know where our kids are most likely to end up but we attempt to ratchet up the trajectory. We want our kids to beat the odds against them and we try to instill the tools that make it possible. Frequently, we have to hope that something we said one rainy Tuesday, or a hot day in May, made enough of an impact that it changed their most likely path. The joy of seeing a boy who ran on the fringes of a gang, now as a young man in the grocery store telling you that he is in college is breathtaking. Getting a Facebook message from a girl that had a drug-using mama telling you that you got her through those years, that makes it all worth while. I once heard that the most common request for a private investigator wasn’t spying on a cheating spouse but rather tracking down a favorite teacher. I don’t know if it is true but I love the idea of it.

4.We have personal lives that are completely ignored during the day. We simply don’t have a moment to spare when a class of twenty-some kids is in the room. In grade schools, we have bladders of steel because you cannot leave your class to go tinkle every hour or two. (I cringed every time I was told by a health professional to drink more water.) We come to work even when we don’t feel well because it is easier than taking a day off. Unless you are absolutely incapacitated you know the result of having a substitute in your classroom. We make up a year’s worth of doctors appointments in the summer break. We make all our business phone calls then also. We are with kids during business hours and don’t get to make phone calls with them in the room. If you believe we can do it the minute the kids leave for the day you need to read the next item.

5. We do more than “just teach.” Our paperwork load is tremendous. It is way beyond grading papers. We have to document most incidents that might be a reason for concern for all students. We have to document conversations with parents and guardians. We have to record any changes to routines for children who are struggling. This can include such simple things as how often I check in with a child or if I moved their desk. We have to keep track of test scores, comparing them to each other and to past scores. The movement to document every iota of data continues to grow in the current world of testing. Besides paperwork, we also need to meet with other teachers for planning. Oh, and don’t forget bulletin boards certainly need to be changed.

6. We frequently feel isolated in our classrooms. We spend large portions of our day as the only adult in the room. Even when you have an aid or a student teacher, you are simply too focused to visit. There is no water cooler conversation. Perhaps the best example of this was way back on September 11, 2001. With a second-grade class, the only way we got information was by quick whispered conversations while we were taking our classes to the bathroom. It wasn’t until I got home and turned on the television that I had a sense of what happened that day.

7. We are passionate about our kids. Many of us see our job as a calling, not a career. We think about our students’ problems day and night, often more than our own. We come up with ways to deal with a child’s difficulty with a skill while we drive to the grocery store. We devise that perfect lesson idea while walking the dog. I’ve been out of the classroom for three years and I still do this several times a day. I see a new book and want to read it to a class. I hear a new fact about whales and want to add it to the unit I created several years ago. It doesn’t stop. It is a lifelong passion.

8. We are the builders of tomorrow. Our job is creating the future citizens of our country. Yes, we work hard. Lots of people do. Unlike most careers, what we do though is not for today. It is for the future. We know that tests don’t create career-ready people. Basic knowledge and the skills to learn do. Being able to work and communicate with others does. We are willing to do the hard work. We are the planters of acorns, believing the mighty oaks will grow from our work.

 

Commentary

voucher-chartMillions of private dollars have made their way to North Carolina in an effort to encourage lawmakers to push a school privatization agenda.

Those funds have resulted in the removal of the cap on charter schools and a new voucher program that takes money away from the public school system in order to fund unregulated and unaccountable private education in the name of school choice.

To connect the dots between the national players in school privatization efforts and local lawmakers that have pushed for the expansion of charters and vouchers, the Institute for Southern Studies (ISS) published an essay and infographic Friday that details how Reps. Stam, Yarborough, Jones and others have benefited from the privatizers’ offerings and the resulting legislation they are seeking to enact.

According to ISS (as well as information I’ve previously reported), Parents for Educational Freedom in NC (PEFNC), headed by Darrell Allison, is the key facilitator behind the school privatization movement. Between PEFNC and political action committees (PACs) closely aligned with Allison, nearly $1.5 million has been funneled through these organizations to local lawmakers, originating  from the Walton Family Foundation and the American Federation for Children — both organizations well known for promoting school privatization initiatives.

Click here to read the full report by ISS.

 

News
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Rep. Graig Meyer
photo credit: North Carolina General Assembly

Lawmakers have filed several measures this spring that are intended to fix what they say is the design flaw in the way North Carolina’s new A-F school grades are calculated, including a bill filed last week by Rep. Graig Meyer and Rep. Paul Luebke that would change the formula for school grades so that they better reflect a school’s ability to help students grow in their academic performance over time and allow for other measures of quality to be reflected in the grades.

But Meyer says he doesn’t expect his bill to be heard in committee at all – and he figures none of the handful of proposals out there to fix A-F school grades is going anywhere.

“The Senate has indicated they won’t do anything this session to address fixing A-F school grades,” said Meyer.

The only thing lawmakers are willing to move on, said Meyer, is to keep the more generous grading scale in place a little longer.

The first set of school grades that came out earlier this year, based on data from the 2013-14 school year, were calculated based on a 15 point scale. Schools receiving As, for example, had to score between 85 and 100 points. Beginning with the 2014-15 school year, however, grades are scheduled to be calculated using a 10 point scale—but lawmakers are considering a measure to keep the 15 point scale in place another two years.

“It’s a simple way to get consistency over a three year period,” said Rep. Jeffrey Elmore, a sponsor of the bill.

It’s also a way to avoid the likely scenario that a whole lot more schools would receive Ds and Fs by moving to the stricter scale right off the bat.

Critics have assailed North Carolina’s new A-F school grading system for its overemphasis on how students perform on standardized tests on a given day, rather than how students improve on those tests over time. The formula for assigning letter grades to schools has resulted in almost all Ds and Fs for schools serving high poverty student populations, while more schools that serve largely affluent families received higher grades.

Proponents of the A-F school grading system, which currently reflects student performance on a given day on standardized tests (80 percent of a letter grade) and, to a lesser degree, how students improve on those tests over time (20 percent of a letter grade) say it provides the public with a better understanding of how well schools are educating students.

But others say the measure fails to sufficiently account for the academic growth that good schools help students achieve and does not take into consideration the challenges that schools serving a high number of poor students face.

An N.C. Policy Watch report surveyed how the A-F school grading model, which is the brain child of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, is faring in other states, finding that these school grading models have raised concerns and questions about how effectively they improve public education, how fair it is to punish schools that serve disadvantaged communities, and the potential for politicians to game the system for their own benefit.

In addition to Rep. Meyer’s proposal, other measures filed aimed at fixing North Carolina’s A-F school grading formula include a bill that would provide schools with two separate letter grades, one reflecting students’ performance on standardized tests and another reflecting growth over time; a bill that would change the formula so that 40 percent of a school’s letter grade would reflect student performance, and 60 percent would reflect student growth; a bill that would change the formula to 20 percent performance, 80 percent growth; and a bill that would change the formula to a 50/50 split.

News
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2015 NC Teacher of the Year Keana Triplett
photo credit: NC Department of Public Instruction

Ashe County High School English teacher and newly minted North Carolina Teacher of the Year Keana Triplett is also a graduate of the highly praised yet now abolished NC Teaching Fellows program – and she says the program’s dismantling is one of the single biggest mistakes ever made in public education.

“The Teaching Fellows program has made that much of a difference in my career,” said Triplett in an interview with N.C. Policy Watch. “I would not be the teacher I am today were it not for the Teaching Fellows program.”

The North Carolina Teaching Fellows program launched in 1986 as a way to attract more North Carolinians to the profession of teaching and keep them in the state. Funded by taxpayers, the program offered education students four-year tuition scholarships in exchange for promising to teach in North Carolina for at least four years.

The program has been widely praised for creating a high quality teaching pool from which local school systems can draw upon, and its graduates tend to stay in the classroom and in North Carolina for a long time. Its positive results are held up high by many education policy experts and advocates who then point to the troubling news that North Carolina’s public university system saw a steep enrollment decline in the last four years in undergraduate and graduate teaching programs, amounting to a 27 percent drop from 2010 to 2014.

But lawmakers initiated the Teaching Fellows program’s demise a few years ago, and the last of its fellows will graduate this year. Funds for the program have been diverted to the controversial Teach for America program, which overall has a poorer record of retaining high quality teachers in North Carolina in the long term.

Triplett explained that the Teaching Fellows program, which allowed her to pursue her dream at Appalachian State University to become a teacher, also provided value that went far beyond the financial benefit— it also provided students with a clinical component to their education, a model that national experts say is critical to the improvement of teacher preparation programs.

As a Teaching Fellow, Triplett was afforded the opportunity to get inside a classroom beginning with her freshman year of undergrad—something most teacher education students don’t get to experience, she said.

“I watch beginning teachers struggle with classroom management, which is one of many things that can’t necessarily be taught in a university setting but is learned in the classroom—and I got to experience that before I ever got into a teaching position,” said Triplett.

For students studying to become secondary school educators, Triplett said that on-the-job training doesn’t typically happen until senior year of college.

“And by that point, it’s too late. If [high school] is not where [teacher education students] are supposed to be and that’s not what they enjoy, then they don’t know that until that’s too late. Because they can only discover that by being in the classroom,” said Triplett.

Triplett said she’s deeply disappointed that lawmakers have chosen to do away with the Teaching Fellows program.

“The Teaching Fellows program recruited students from every county in North Carolina who were passionate about becoming educators, and the program fostered in them a love of learning and a love of the profession — and that’s why so many of them are in the classroom today,” said Triplett.

“I think it’s one of the biggest mistakes that has ever been made in public education,” Triplett said.

News

Hats off to the Charlotte Observer’s Andrew Dunn, who published a series of stories this weekend about how for-profit education management organizations that operate charter schools in North Carolina are allowed to keep secret, to some extent, how they spend taxpayer dollars — and how that reality can ultimately contribute to the abuse of public money.

From Dunn’s story:

Six private charter school management firms currently oversee millions in state dollars for public education in North Carolina.

The structure of these schools has benefits. The financial backing a company provides offers stability, and management organizations bring refined curriculums and training programs, said Eddie Goodall, executive director of the Charlotte-based North Carolina Public Charter Schools Association. They also often have strong records of academic performance.

But other states with longer charter school track records have had problems. In many cases, the lack of transparency at their management companies has made it more difficult to detect issues. Among the examples:

  • The founder of Bay City Academy in Michigan was convicted of three counts last month related to tax fraud for shuffling money intended for the charter school through his management business and personal accounts to avoid taxes.
  • A charter school in Washington, D.C., had its charter revoked in Februaryafter authorities accused it of improperly shifting public money to the management company. D.C. charter school officials said they had a hard time obtaining financial records from the company. Earlier, D.C. officials had accused another management company of receiving exorbitantly high prices for services at several charter schools.
  • In New York, the Office of the State Comptroller sought to get informationfrom National Heritage Academies after saying state officials couldn’t determine how $10 million in taxpayer money was being used. The company refused to provide full financial reports. New York no longer allows new charter schools to contract with for-profit companies.

“Transparency is a serious issue,” said Gary Miron, a professor at Western Michigan University who has studied charter schools extensively. In Michigan, nearly 80 percent of charter schools are run by for-profit management companies. “Transparency laws would help, but they must invade the proprietary space of (management companies) because of the public need to know.”

Dunn also highlights six management companies’ disclosure practices, management fees and executive pay rates in his story.

Next year, for example, Cabarrus Charter School will for over $800,000+ in taxpayer dollars in management fees to its parent company, Charter Schools USA.

Last week, Governor Pat McCrory and Charter Schools USA CEO Jonathan Hage toured one of the company’s three charter schools, Cardinal Charter Academy in Cary. Senator Jerry Tillman is sponsoring a bill this year that would make it easier for national for-profit charter school management organizations to expand their presence in the state going forward.

Click below to read all of Dunn’s stories on for-profit charter school management firms.