Friday, November 11, 2022

NC: Hammering The Teaching Profession

North Carolina continues to slowly dig deeper and deeper holes in which to bury public education and public school teachers. They've just launched another piece of their bad ideas, but in order to look at what just happened, we need a little context.

Our story so far

North Carolina has spent about a decade chipping away at public education. Here' are just some of the lowlights.

NC implemented one of those flunk third graders if they don't as the Big Standardized Reading Test laws. They froze their already-lousy pay schedule for teachers (in NC, the state sets the pay levels) even as that pay was shown to be Very Not Good.. When a report showed charter schools not doing so great, the Lt. Governor ordered it rewritten to look less negative; then a few years later they did the same thing again. Maybe it's because they are a great haven for charter profiteers. They decided to shovel even more public money into the voucher pipeline, while cutting millions from public ed funding (for Democratic areas). They tried to follow the failed Tennessee model of a state-run achievement school district (but it failed). When the legislature tried and failed to end teacher tenure, they told teachers they could have a raise if they gave up their job protections. They've set up rules to enable white flight. NC legislature is one of the ones that decided to fight on the hill of denying transgender bathrooms. And last year the Lt. Governor decided to organize a task force to catch any schools or teachers doing any naughty indoctrinatin' stuff--a state sponsored with hunt. This in a state where county commissioners can take school districts hostage if they don't like what the schools are teaching. And the legislature has been so determined not to fully fun public education that the court finally ordered the state to fork over $1,5 billion to education funding to settle a court finding from 1997 that required the state to stop farting around and fully fund its public schools (which it has been refusing to do ever since).

Yeah, it's a lot.

To the surprise of nobody paying attention, North Carolina has trouble recruiting and retaining teachers. 

In 2017, the legislature created the Professional Educator Standards and Preparation Commission (PEPSC) to make recommendations on how to expand teacher preparation programs, create an accountability system for those programs, and to “reorganize and clarify” the licensure process.. The plan they hatched is not a good one, and it turns out that the commission is just a piece of government theater and the plan was actually hatched by several parties behind the scenes including SAS (the value-added testing folks) and the Sothern Regional Education Board (SREB), which was in turn pulling strings on something called the North Carolina Human Capitol Roundtable. Had teacher Justin Parmenter not turned out to be a dogged and determined filer of FOIA requests, nobody outside of the little theater would have known that the P in PEPSC stands for "Puppet." Buried behind a lot of secretive communication and string pulling, we find this statement:

The overarching goal is to create an outcomes-based licensure system.

In other words, a teacher merit pay system. Not a merit pay bonus system, but an entire teacher pay system based on "merit." 

Okay, so what just happened?

This week PEPSC continued to slow-march its plan, submitting a "blueprint" for the new licensure system to the State Board of Education. The vote to do so was "slim" (and a bit questionable), and while everyone seems to understand that the end game is a system in which "teachers would prove they are effective educators" aka "merit" aka "check those scores on the Big Standardized Test," the blueprint is a not the system itself, but a list of ten "general actions" that is just vaguely formed argle bargle.

That's in keeping with the plan developed by the PR firm hired to new revamped system, and the understanding of PEPSC and its friends, which is that if word of the specifics of this plan get out, and teachers hate it enough to rise up in protest, the plan will be seriously hampered, if not outright killed. It is a reasonable fear on their part, because this plan should be DOA and then killed with fire. So the ten item list seems designed to keep the ball rolling while postponing the day when too many people look at the actual plan (which PEPSC keeps insisting could continue to change, even though it has not changed in any major way since PEPSC's buddies first handed it over). 

Do we want to look at the blueprint?

Sure. Or you can skip this section and jump to the wrap-up. Fair warning--this is kind of dense. I will try to translate as we go. Here are the ten items on the blueprint:

1. Build the professional framework around articulated standards of practice (i.e., INTASC) with clear expectations for progression in attainment of the professional knowledge base. So, standardize teaching.

2. Build analysis and assessment of practice from a base of multiple evidence points in practice with responsible application as to how each informs practice. Standardize the assessment of standardized teaching.

3. Create advanced and lead teacher roles to support teachers in various stages of professional learning, practice, and transition into and through the profession. This is part of the PEPSC plan. Any time someone talks about adding steps on the professional ladder, the question you have to ask is--will they add rungs above the ones we have, or are they going to dig a hole and lower the bottom end of the ladder. In North Carolina, there's another question to ask, but we'll get to that in a second.

4. Build licensure around evidence of attainment of the knowledge base of practice appropriate to the purpose of the license. Again, the main point is to make licensure outcomes based. We don't want to know how well you're trained--did you make that kid's scores go up?

5. Create and adopt valid and reliable tools to analyze and assess practice and its impact on student learning A cornerstone of the professional knowledge base and the ability to make explicit the practices that positively impacts student learning. Teacher quality will be measured by student outcomes. Remember, this whole thing is backed by SAS, the people who invented value-added test crap (EVAAS, PVAAS, etc), a system that has been largely debunked and even thrown out in court.

6. Build on existing assets in identified professional knowledge bases and structures that correlate to positive impact on teacher practice and student learning Including the collaborative knowledge base that exists in EPPs and the partnerships between schools, districts, and higher education. Blah blah blah standardized teaching and VAM.

7. Develop new professional learning tools and structures that give flexibility in access to the professional knowledge base, evidence of having attained it, and evidence of applying it successfully in practice. Gonna retrain teachers because we know how to do that.

8. Articulate clear distinctions across pathway entry points and progression focused on successful entry into the profession and transition to fully autonomous professionals. Open up more "alternative" paths to the classroom.

9. Build and fund a compensation and reward model that reflects the importance and value of the teaching profession, and that attracts and retains people in the profession

10. Secure funding to support the infrastructure of the framework as well as its discrete components

These last two (pay teachers well and fund this whole thing) bring us to the question that has to be asked in North Carolina. North Carolina has refused for a quarter of a decade to implement a plan for fully funding its public education system. They have repeatedly implemented pay scales that drag North Carolina teachers backwards. What are the odds that they will really implement better teacher pay and then fund it? 

TL;DR. What does all this say?

This deliberately obfuscatory language appears to hide a plan that is familiar to ed reform watchers. 

Expand your pool of possible hires by lowering your bar until a blind rat could step over it. Shore up your untrained and underqualified people by standardizing the act of teaching so that it's just paint by numbers and educational fry cookery. Pretend that you can measure the effectiveness of that system by using some BS Testing run through a VAM calculator (which just happens to be the proprietary cash cow of one of the backers of the plan). When you find teachers who are good at getting test scores, promote them and make them part of the process of prepping the fresh meat at the bottom of the scale. Pay the few at the top a bit more, and as for the bottom--well, you know what happens to pay when a job can be easily filled by any number of people.

I am not sure where in North Carolina, or anywhere else in this country, you can find people who honestly, sincerely believe that this plan will make the teaching profession in North Carolina more appealing. 

I suspect what you can find are people who believe that a system like this will make teaching positions easier and cheaper to fill.

In either case, the people who believe this plan will work are kidding themselves. The people on PEPSC who voted for it should be ashamed of themselves. Members of the State Board of Education should be pummeled with e-mails, as should all elected officials who come within five hundred feet of public education. 

This is not a plan that will serve anyone well, least of all the students of North Carolina, and no amount of flowery argle bargle and secret meeting and general misdirection is going to change that. Bad news all around. 

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