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.


Having worked through the Labor Day weekend, lawmakers are indicating that budget talks have been productive and that we could see a budget agreement hammered out—2.5 months late—between House and Senate leaders by week’s end.

It’s been a very long seven (?) months since the start of this year’s legislative session, so in case you’ve gotten so weary you’ve lost track of what’s at stake for public education, here are seven big issues.

Teacher assistants. Yes, once again, TA jobs are on the line and serve as one of the biggest sticking points between the House and the Senate. The House wants to preserve their jobs (of which there are already far fewer than pre-recession levels), while the Senate wants to do away with more than 8,500 TA jobs over the next two years in favor of reducing classroom sizes.

Educators say wait: not enough space or time at this point to reduce class sizes and, by the way, who will drive the buses, administer the medicines, and keep kids safe—not to mention who will make sure third graders are reading proficient?

Driver’s education. The Senate wants to defund driver’s ed and make parents pay $350+ for their kids to learn how to drive. Sen. Dan Soucek (R-Boone) says kids just need to sit behind the wheel for a while—instruction isn’t necessary. The House wants to keep the program going, which some say has markedly improved thanks to recent efforts to increase oversight and coordination between the DMV and driver’s ed programs.

Meanwhile, thanks to funding uncertainty, some school districts have already quit providing driver’s ed. And the person at DPI who some say is responsible for making the program better? He got laid off.

Teacher pay. Lawmakers have said they’ll fund the step increases that were foreshadowed in last year’s set of pay raises, which is welcome news to teachers who thought they would have seen those pay bumps earlier this summer. Beginning teachers will see their base pay rise again to $35,000, a promise that was made last year. Everyone else? $750 Christmastime bonuses, which isn’t really a salary increase, but, well—a bonus.

All of these promises were made verbally, though, so let’s see how things actually pan out in the budget documents.

Reminder: NC ranks 42nd in teacher pay, 47th in per pupil spending, and new teachers have no tenure rights. And next year, new teachers may not be able to look forward to…

Health retirement benefits. Senate lawmakers want to end a much-treasured benefit that comes with working for the state government for many years at comparatively lower wages than what private industry pays: state-paid health retirement benefits. Teachers and state employees hired after January 1 of next year would not be eligible for free health insurance upon retirement. House and Senate leaders have been pretty quiet on the budget provision, and we’ll see if it makes it into the final budget.

A-F school grades. The Senate wants to require local school districts to come up with improvement plans for schools that receive Ds or Fs under the state’s new school grading system—but they offer no funds in order to help local schools implement the plans. (See why this is especially important at the bottom of this post.)

“We believe money is not the answer,” said Sen. Brown, explaining instead that districts must identify other ways to deal with factors that contribute to poor performance at failing schools.

Neither Senate nor House budget proposals also do not include language that would change how schools receive A-F school grades, in spite of interest expressed on both sides of the aisle for the school grading system to be amended so that the grades better indicate how well schools are able to help their students improve academically over time.

If the A-F grading system remains as is, by and large high poverty-serving schools with fewer resources would continue to receive failing grades while schools that serve higher income populations would receive better marks—a trend we just saw continue for the second year in a row.

School vouchers. The House and Senate want to expand the Opportunity Scholarships program by $6.8 million, bringing the total cost of the program to $17.6 million each year of the biennium. The vouchers allow low-income students to attend unaccountable private schools with taxpayer dollars.

Now that the state Supreme Court has ruled the program constitutional, we’ll see if legislators move to expand the program even further.

Textbooks. The Senate proposes $58 million over two years for textbooks and digital resources—less than half of what the House has proposed. Funds for textbooks have been slashed to the bone over the past five years and House and Senate proposals still do not restore textbook funds to their 2011 levels.


Bonus issue: Achievement School District. It’s not in the budget, but hey, who knows — anything can end up in the budget.

The ASD is an idea being shepherded by Rep. Rob Bryan behind closed doors. The proposal allows charter school operators to take over low-performing schools, fire the teachers and staff, and catapult students’ academic performance into the top 25 percent within a few years. A wealthy businessman from Oregon is financing lobbying efforts associated with the possible legislation.

Word on the street is that Bryan’s bill is being met with pushback and key Republican lawmakers haven’t been converted on the idea. Stay tuned to see if the ASD proposal gets inserted into a gutted Senate bill (SB 95) and heard in committee, or if it makes it into budget documents.


Education blogger
James D. Hogan

Following yesterday’s release of North Carolina’s latest A-F school grades—which, for the second year in a row, were largely a reflection of how poor or wealthy a school’s students are—education blogger James Hogan wrote about his own wife’s 15 year career at a D-rated elementary school in Iredell County.

Writing about the students Hogan’s wife teaches, he writes:

Her students have it rough. Many of them don’t get to sleep on beds. Their bikes are regularly stolen. Their fathers aren’t always around. Whenever my wife invites students to share what they did over the weekend at the beginning of class, she often hears stories about parents or siblings who were arrested. Or shot.

Several years ago, I stopped by my wife’s classroom to drop something off with her that she’d forgotten. After I left, one of her students raised his hand and asked who the man was who’d just visited their classroom.

“He’s my husband,” she replied. “Mr. Hogan.”

“Do he beat you?” the student asked.

Do he beat you? It was an honest question, asked in earnest by a kid who’d seen plenty of domestic violence in his life. And that question said a lot about the baggage this particular student—and so many of his peers—brings to class every day.

Despite the challenges that Hogan’s wife’s students face outside of the classroom, her school exceeded the state’s growth expectations for students’ standardized test scores. Teachers there, it appears, were making a difference.

Here are some examples of her school’s approach to making sure at-risk youth don’t fall through the cracks toward failure:

This year, my wife’s principal has created a school-wide theme called “Operation Possible.” The idea is that, beginning on Day 1, students are pushed to consider what comes at the end of their education. What jobs would they like to work? Where might they want to live? What are their dreams?

The entire faculty has embraced the concept. Several of them are coming to school dressed like doctors and nurses (operation possible, get it?), ready to diagnose students’ passions and enable them to follow them.

One of the administrators runs a leadership program that identifies students on the brink who could use extra one-on-one mentoring. They’re called ambassadors, and they form an exclusive club. The school provides them with collared shirts and ties (there’s a female group starting this year), and they lead visitors on tours, work with younger students, and learn from career professionals about making good choices in life.

The ambassador program has demonstrated great success, keeping kids out of trouble, and reaping the reward of what an investment in a troubled young person’s life can produce.

Other faculty have shown enormous initiative over the summer. One noticed her students’ extra energy distracted them from learning, so she wrote a grant and earned funding to buy standing desks, stability ball chairs, and other furniture that allowed students to work out their kinetic buildups and still stay focused.

Another teacher, whose students attend classes in a mobile unit (did I mention my wife’s school, which was expanded in the last five years, is overcrowded?), grew tired of her students getting soaked on rainy days during the walk to the main building. So, she wrote and earned a nearly $20,000 grant that will help build a covered walkway between the buildings.

When schools receive D or F grades, they don’t get extra resources to make sure students can do better. Teachers don’t get extra help either. The school has to send a letter home to parents simply stating that their children’s school got a failing grade—and that’s it.

Fortunately for Hogan’s wife’s school, their students’  parents can learn more about what that D grade really represents through his writings. Otherwise, they might not know the full story.

Read ‘The Beautiful Story of a D-Rated School” 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.


The Public School Forum of NC announced Wednesday it’s forming a new study group — and, possibly, a new center — to seek solutions to racial inequities and unfair funding formulas found in North Carolina’s schools.

Using the following question as the foundation for its work, “what would it take to provide every child in North Carolina with the opportunity to receive a sound basic education?” the group, comprising educators, government officials, business leaders and subject area experts, will develop policies and best practices to this end.

“There has been much more of an emphasis and a growing body of research on many things that have been affecting academic achievement, and one of the big ones is racial segregation and its impact on our schools today,” said the Public School Forum’s executive director, Keith Poston.

Poston said recent conversations and news stories around some of North Carolina’s school systems resegregating more than forty years after the U.S. Supreme Court’s integration orders prompted conversations at the Public School Forum focused on where schools are headed in terms of racial equity.

We were feeling that this is something that’s becoming a huge issue,” said Poston.

The study group will be helmed by former history teacher and NC Teacher of the Year James E. Ford, a recent hire of the Public School Forum who is now serving as its program director. Co-heading the study group will be the Forum’s Senior Director of Policy & Programs, Joe Ableidinger.

Members of the study group will hone in on the following three topic areas (listed below), with the hope of producing a report next spring that will provide the basis for the work of the proposed North Carolina Center for Educational Opportunity, housed within the Forum (contingent on funding):

  • Racial Equity – What obstacles stand in the way of ensuring that North Carolina children of all races have the opportunity to receive a sound basic education? How can these obstacles be overcome?
  • Trauma and Learning –What policies and practices can improve educators’ understanding of and responses to the impacts of traumatic childhood experiences on learning, such that even our most vulnerable children have the opportunity to receive a sound basic education?
  • School Funding – What school financing alternatives exist to efficiently target educational dollars where they are needed most? Are there alternatives to our current school finance system that may help boost long-term outcomes of all students, particularly those who are currently not well-served?

Focusing on ways to prepare teachers whose students are dealing with trauma is an especially important subject area, said Poston, as students in poverty (and the majority of NC students are poor) often have out-of-classroom experiences that provoke feelings of post-traumatic stress, leaving them unable to focus in school.

The Public School Forum has produced numerous reports looking at teacher recruitment and retention, digital learning, accountability and assessments, and other subject areas.

Back in 2005, the Forum addressed the issue of school finance and how best to respond to the Leandro ruling mandating that all children have the opportunity to receive a sound basic education.