Commentary, Education

Editorial: North Carolina’s “frustration” over reading scores a bipartisan problem

Food for thought in Monday’s board editorial from The Charlotte Observer, which noted that the news of lagging reading scores in North Carolina should be, all budget disputes aside, a bipartisan problem.

The news has been bad for some time as it concerns Read to Achieve, a Republican-championed initiative that has, surely for a variety of reasons, failed. It’s an expensive failure too. By January, the state had already spent more than $150 million on the program since 2012.

The board makes the righteous point that now is not the time for any political grandstanding, whether you’re a critic of Sen. Phil Berger’s GOP majority or not.

From The Observer:

It’s a club of people who care deeply about education. It’s a club that possesses both data and theories regarding what might help struggling schools and students, but it’s one that understands there are no certainties — and certainly no silver bullets. It is, above all, a club that knows the reasons students struggle are complex, that we need to try a lot of fixes and fail at some, and that all of it takes money and patience.

None of which is news to Sen. Berger, who is among the shrewdest policy makers in the state legislature. But for years, Berger’s party has largely argued that investing in education initiatives is throwing good money after bad, or that the answer is not money but school “choice” — as if private schools don’t face similar challenges as public. In fact, some education advocates believe that one of the reasons Read to Achieve has failed here is that the supporting education structure around it — including teachers and, importantly, pre-K — have been insufficiently funded by the Republicans Berger leads.

Certainly, many of those education advocates know what it’s like to get disappointing results. NAEP numbers this week also showed that nationally, fourth and eighth grade reading scores essentially have remained flat for a decade. This despite years of reforms across the country that include more precise standardized testing, stricter teacher evaluations and increased attentiveness to third-grade reading scores laws.

The results have frustrated educators across the country, just as North Carolina’s numbers surely have done for Sen. Berger. His response, however, has been at least a little heartening. Instead of using disappointing numbers as an excuse to abandon an education initiative, he worked to improve Read to Achieve, even recruiting Democrat and state school board member J.B. Buxton to help. That reform bill, however, was vetoed by Gov. Roy Cooper, who called Read to Achieve ineffective and costly.

We suspect the governor may have been holding Berger’s signature project hostage in a budget fight, just as Berger and Republicans tried to hold higher teacher pay hostage this week over that same budget. If so, that’s wrong on both counts. Investment in education shouldn’t be subject to political weaponization, regardless of who does it.

We’re encouraged, however, that state school board members are seeing a new willingness from Republican leaders to work on solutions involving struggling schools and North Carolina’s controversial Innovative School District, sources tell the editorial board. We believe education progress won’t be found in ideological sniping, but with a realization from both parties that improving schools is often difficult, regularly frustrating and never something we should abandon.

Republicans deserve a heap of criticism for their education policy, which has been sorely underfunded for most of a decade, however much they have spent on early-grade reading.

But now is, indeed, the time for both parties to consider resolutions. Everything should be on the table, including funding for Pre-K, turnaround schools, and overall school spending. Since 2011, and even before the GOP takeover, there has been precious little cooperation between Republicans and Democrats. That, however you choose to spin it, should be an outrage.

What comes next, we can hope, is something new.

 

Education, News, Trump Administration

Elizabeth Warren releases new education plan, includes $450 billion in federal aid

Sen. Elizabeth Warren

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a favorite for the Democratic nomination for president, is famous for her plans.

Education Week reports Warren has a plan for education now too, and it includes $450 billion in new federal aid for “disadvantaged students.”

The plan is likely to draw a sharp contrast with President Donald Trump’s administration, which has made funding for school choice and privatization programs a priority.

Education is not grabbing the headlines in this election, given the near constant stream of conversation about impeachment, espionage and whistle-blowers. But it should be, given the enormous impact it will have on states.

Here’s a portion of Education Week‘s report on the Warren plan. For the full report, visit Education Week.

Massachusetts senator and 2020 presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren is proposing a K-12 education plan that includes $450 billion in new federal aid over 10 years to disadvantaged students, changing the way that money is allocated in order to ensure underfunded schools get more, and more than doubling funding in special education grants by increasing aid by $20 billion a year.

In addition, Warren’s plan would direct billions of dollars a year in federal money to promote public school integration, and aims to help 25,000 public schools transition to the community schools model, which provides health and other wraparound services to help students and their communities. She also wants to eliminate “high-stakes testing” and authorize new legal requirement that teachers can organize and collectively bargain in every state.

Her campaign released “A Great Public School Education for Every Student”on Monday. In this plan, Warren also reiterated her previous pledge to appoint a person with public school teaching experience to be education secretary. She also wants to end federal funding for charter school expansion, and to allow only local school districts to authorize charter schools.

On the technology side, she wants to revamp federal law to “ban the sharing, storing, and sale of student data that includes names or other information that can identify individual students.” She also takes a shot at tech giants like Facebook and Google by saying she’ll “crack down” on data mining practices that take place in schools.

Warren’s plan would require huge changes in how the U.S. Department of Education does business, and Congress would have to sign off on key elements. Politically speaking, it’s hard to see how much of want she wants gets over the finish line; lawmakers would have to agree to revise several key elements of the Every Student Succeeds Act, for example. But it sends a clear signal to Democratic voters and key power players in the party, especially the teachers’ unions, about her intentions and how much she would depart not just from the Trump administration, but from the Obama administration as well.

“As public school teachers across the country know, our schools do not have the financial resources they need to deliver a quality public education for every child. That’s why my plan invests hundreds of billions of dollars in our public schools—paid for by a two-cent wealth tax on fortunes above $50 million,” Warren said in a statement accompanying the plan.

Commentary, News

Op-Ed: N.C. must change the faceless nature of online political ads

Facebook is taking a lot of licks these days, and deservedly so.

But Melissa Price Kromm, coalition director for N.C. Voters for Clean Elections (NCVCE), a group advocating for some sorely-needed election transparency, says the Facebook controversy should also make us consider North Carolina’s perilously outdated campaign finance laws, particularly as it pertains to anonymous online political ads.

It is a must-read, because the 2020 election cycle is shaping up to be a whirlwind. And North Carolinians should know who’s paying to influence them.

From the op-ed, which originally ran Monday in the McClatchy papers, The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer:

Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s campaign made an important point by purchasing Facebook ads that claimed founder Mark Zuckerberg endorsed President Donald Trump.

This was completely false and the campaign was deliberately trolling Facebook’s lack of rules regarding political ads. Despite it being so clearly untrue, the ads ran anyway. This demonstration of the potential to spread misinformation should not make us ask a private, for-profit company, Facebook, to have tighter rules. These are our elections — the foundation of our democracy — we are talking about. Instead, Warren’s ad highlights the need for election laws to catch up to the changing times.

It might shock you to know that North Carolina’s campaign finance disclosure laws have not kept up with changing technology. And this is a serious problem. We’ve all seen the special interest attack ads that run on social media without any clue who paid for them. That’s because North Carolina has not updated its laws to mandate a disclaimer — otherwise known as “Paid for by” lines — on many digital ads or require disclosure of much of the money behind digital ads.

Legislators’ slow reaction to changing technology has created a blind spot that special interests exploit by running digital campaign ads which in many cases are not required to provide disclaimer or disclosure. With an election coming up and campaigns moving into digital mediums, this major loophole will wreak havoc on the 2020 election.

Little information is provided to the public about these digital ads.One can track and see a print ad by, for example, purchasing a newspaper. Anyone with a TV or radio can see or hear a television or radio ad. However, the nature of campaign digital ads means you have to be targeted to see the ad.

According to polling by Voters’ Right to Know, 81% of American voters believe they should have the right to know the money behind elections — an almost unheard-of amount of agreement in these politically divisive times.

The good news is that a bipartisan group of North Carolina legislators is seeking to bring our election laws into the 21st century with the common-sense disclosure of digital ads. House Bill 700 requires disclaimers and disclosure closing this loophole, ensuring disclosure for all paid for digital campaign ads.

Currently, there are loopholes that allow certain entities to place digital campaign ads without a “Paid for by” line and that allow certain entities to hide the money behind the digital ads. This is mainly because our campaign finance laws have not kept up with changing technology.

House Bill 700 narrowly defined qualified digital ads as those placed with a fee and would require most campaign entities, supporting or opposing candidates or those mentioning a candidate 30 days prior to an election, to place a disclaimer on their qualified digital ad and file qualified digital communications disclosure report. This is in line with the disclosure laws currently in place for TV, radio, and newspaper advertising, and merely bring our state’s political spending laws into the 21st century of digital communications.

It does not come as a surprise to anyone that dark money groups oppose reasonable efforts to close this loophole. They would rather continue to try and influence your vote from the shadows of anonymity. They will cry that their free speech is being hampered. But paid speech is not the same as free speech.

Television, radio and newspaper political ads are routinely subject to disclosure requirements not because of the content of the speech, but because money has been spent to amplify the speech.

The U.S. Supreme Court has again and again upheld disclosure requirements, even as it has allowed more entities to spend money and influence election outcomes. The dark-money groups’ reasoning tries to confuse the discussion by pretending that your individual political posts and conversations online are the same as paid ads by coordinated, well-resourced campaigns.

This lack of transparency means that voters are left in the dark about who is attempting to influence them, and there is little accountability for bad actors – including foreign nationals, who are legally barred from spending on U.S. elections.

This is how trust in the democratic process erodes. In order to provide transparency and accountability to safeguard our political system, we must address these challenges and fix these loopholes.

(Disclosure: Policy Watch Director Rob Schofield and Bill Rowe, deputy director of advocacy for the N.C. Justice Center — Policy Watch’s parent nonprofit — sit on NCVCE’s board of directors). 

Commentary, Education, News

Must-read: What we can learn from a canceled Wake County class on diversity

Chances are, most everyone knows someone who teaches in a classroom.

It’s an enormous job, putting it mildly. But it’s also a much more complicated job than it was decades ago.

Questions about pay aside, and they are major questions, the modern classroom isn’t the same place it was when the lion’s share of North Carolina’s lawmakers enrolled in K-12. It is more diverse; it is more globally connected; and it is under enormous pressure from a school choice movement that’s squeezed traditional public schools for resources and pupils.

But a report Monday from Carolina Public Press highlights another challenge for educators: teaching about diversity. As the report notes, Wake County officials nixed a class recently when parents raised privacy concerns about the forward-thinking course.

Surely a valuable subject, North Carolina educators need to find a way to make such a course work. The report explains those looming difficulties in detail.

Here’s an excerpt, although check out Carolina Public Press for the full piece:

When a Wake County teacher had her students use a “diversity inventory,” concerns about privacy led the principal to cancel the classroom lesson in late August.

But the question that education leaders in that school district and others across North Carolina are still dealing with is how to teach about identity in the classroom without violating student privacy.

The issue is multifaceted. First, the checklist used in that lesson didn’t quite fit the lesson plan the Heritage High School class was supposed to be using, Wake County Public School System spokesperson Lisa Lutin said. The lesson was intended to teach about identity, not diversity.

The lesson also required students to ask their family, neighbors, peers and others to contribute information. With fields such as “sexuality,” “ability” and “socio-economic status” on the list, some parents felt uncomfortable and contacted the school.

Principal Scott Lyons reviewed the material and canceled the lesson.

Identity and diversity

Identity and diversity are distinctly separate, according to Dana Griffin, associate professor and faculty chair at the UNC Chapel Hill School of Education.

Griffin, a former school counselor as well as a marriage and family counselor, now instructs school counselors at the undergraduate and graduate levels on how to teach about identity.

Griffin does think that teaching about diversity is important.

“I can’t speak for the school or the person who was doing the activity in class,” Griffin told Carolina Public Press.

“When I talk about diversity or cultural identity, I say that I use ‘diversity’ broadly, like as the adjective: ‘We are a diverse population.’ What makes us diverse are our cultural identities. What are our identities? And then, here’s the list: The identity is age, race, social class, gender identity, sexual orientation, religious affiliation or lack of, disability, military, education, right? Work, family, even our family makeup. What I try to do is normalize it, that no matter what or how we identify, or what our experiences are, it doesn’t mean that we are better than or less than.”

It’s important for students to understand that individuals will have various life experiences according to their identities, Griffin said.

Many people tend to think of race or gender as an identity, but Griffin pointed out that identities have many factors. Two people of the same race and religion but in separate social classes would likely have different experiences that would shape their unique identities.

Commentary, Trump Administration

Columnist: Despite what Trump’s people say, the president’s Ukraine call is classic case of quid pro quo

President Donald Trump (Credit: Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons)

The story that has roiled Washington, D.C. in recent days — President Donald Trump’s bizarre July phone call with the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky — is now a case of semantics.

Defenders of the president will make their case that the president was not attempting to coerce the Ukrainian leader. He may only have to convince Senate Republicans in the impeachment inquiry, but at some point, Trump will have to convince the American people as well.

In a Sunday op-ed, Professor Joseph Kennedy of the UNC School of Law wrote that the public should not be fooled.

From the op-ed:

President Trump and his defenders in the ongoing impeachment inquiry are pretending that the law is more complicated than it is.

“Quid pro quo” is Latin for “one thing for another.” Trump has argued that he did nothing wrong during his phone call with the president of Ukraine last summer because there was no quid pro quo, no explicit request of continued aid for Ukraine for an investigation of Joe Biden, his leading opponent in the next election. A quid pro quo is not essential to a crime or abuse of power, but the president is wrong in any event. No “magic words” are required for a quid pro quo to take place.

If I withhold something your country needs to survive (like money to buy missiles to defend against Russian attacks), and I ask you for a “favor,” that is a quid pro quo. Neither the law nor common sense require me to say “or else.” If it did, corruption and extortion would be almost impossible to prove because mobsters and crooked politicians would simply avoid making explicit threats.

Imagine that people are being laid off at your workplace. Your boss calls and refers to the fact that you have not been let go. You say that you really appreciate still having a job. He then says “I need a favor though” (which are the exact words that the president used). You are listening very carefully to your boss’s every word because your economic survival depends on keeping him happy. When you hear the words “I need a favor though” you will believe that the favor is a condition for not being laid off because “though” can only refer to what you just said about still having a job.

Now imagine that the favor your boss asks is something wrongful. He asks you to go on a date with him even though you are married or for you to spread rumors that you know are false about one of your co-workers to get them fired. He refers to this favor over and over again and says it is “very important.” You would assume that you need to go on the date or spread those rumors if you want to keep your job because unless threatened you would not do something so wrong. That is a quid pro quo. It is illegal and an abuse of his power. The phone transcript shows the president did the same thing.

The president should not be held to a lower standard than your boss at work. He cannot escape responsibility because he did not use “magic words.” The more power one has, the less explicit one needs to be, and the president is the leader of the most powerful country on earth. Conditioning hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars in military aid that serves our national security on an investigation of your political opponent is not just “inappropriate” or “concerning.” It is a grave abuse of presidential power and probably a crime.

This is an “Emperor has no clothes moment.” The President’s naked abuse of his enormous power is plain for all to read in the phone transcript. Political leaders who pretend not to see it by twisting legal concepts are either lying to themselves or lying to us.