Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Stop pretending

The News & Observer recently ran a series of articles about education in North Carolina and here in Wake County. Many, including Gov. Cooper, state leaders, and even the president of the NC Association of Educators, claimed they were "surprised" and "appalled".

I'm not.

I could spend hours writing about the ways WCPSS has and continues to purposefully label and exclude low-income children from an appropriate education. Remember diversity busing?

The N&O won't publish my full response so here it is:

The series of articles by the N&O about the purposeful exclusion of low-income children from appropriately challenging classes should be causing outrage - from parents, from taxpayers, from political leaders, and from the WCPSS School Board and Supt. Merrill.

Just a few years ago, advocacy groups and people who claimed to care about education in Wake County protested to the point of being arrested because they didn't want the Wake County Public School System to stop busing these same low-income children out of their neighborhoods and into the suburbs. They claimed poor Raleigh children would receive a better education in a school that was "not as poor". Their cry in support of diversity busing was "It's what's at the end of the bus ride that matters". 

And, yet, now we see that the end of this bus ride doesn't matter at all - it's merely a long ride, back and forth, every day under the guise of a better education.

In reality, and as many of us have known for years, the same low-income children that many fought to keep on a bus are deliberately being withheld and excluded from a proper education, not getting a better one. 

So, if there is a time for disruption, protests, and arrests, now is that time.

Unfortunately, I'm convinced there will be no outrage. We will all merrily skip along and continue to pretend that busing the low-income children for diversity and enticing the rich, white families with magnet school entitlements is actually making a positive impact on education in Wake County. After all, we know know who really matters in our school system - and it's not the poor. 

And, if you didn't notice their comments in the article, the WCPSS School Board wants to address this issue with more money.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Your children. Not mine.

Last week, WCPSS Chairwoman Christine Kushner wrote an article for UNC-Chapel Hill's Morehead-Cain Scholars website. (Yeah, that's a mouthful in itself.)

Her article is titled "The real crisis in public education, and how to fix it".

First of all, "The real crisis"? High and mighty much?

Anyway... I wrote a Letter to the Editor to the News & Observer in response to Ms. Kushner's ridiculous and insulting claim that it is the parents of Wake County that cause her and our school system such heartburn.

As it hasn't been published (yet), I thought I would share it with you here. Enjoy.

Submitted Nov. 7, 2015:

WCPSS Chair Christine Kushner has proudly announced that it is the parents of Wake County who are hurting the public school system. Yes, you. And me. And every other caring parent who has chosen to stay with the public school system yet stands up for their child. According to our School Board, you are a horrible person and simply messing things up.

Kushner condescendingly claims in the article that "individual choice" is the real crisis in our schools. She berates and belittles parents for basically being good parents. She hates parents who make decisions that best serve their own children without considering the "common good". Hates them.

So, it is a little surprising to find out that Ms. Kushner chose to send her child to one of the most exclusive publicly-funded high schools in NC. That's right. She made an "individual choice" for her child's education. A choice that was made, I would assume, based on what was best her family and her child - because I don't see how sending her child to a limited enrollment high school with a highly competitive admission process that is fully funded by the state (including tuition, room and board) helps the rest of us.

Apparently, the common good is your problem to solve...with your children - not hers.

What a patronizing hypocrite.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

You should be outraged.

According to WRAL, a student brought an unloaded gun to Apex Middle School last year. Not only did he threaten other students with the gun, he also "...pointed the gun...and pulled the trigger".

Then, according to the parent of one of the victims, this student said: "Don't tell. If you do, I have the bullets in my backpack and you'll be next."

Yes, this happened at Apex Middle School. Yes, last year. And, yes, according to the article, our WCPSS School Board and their "policies" have allowed this student back into the public school system. Worse, they have assigned this student to the same high school that his victims attend.

Do your children attend Apex Friendship High School? Are you aware that this student is lurking your hallways? Will this student be reassigned to another high school in our community? Will our School Board member, Susan Evans, ever notify us or our community? Or is she too busy chasing her political dreams

I'm outraged. You should be too. Here's my reaction. And, if you're pissed off like I am, here's their email addresses: WCPSS Board of Education 

(And don't forget to include the elusive and secretive Supt. Merrill)

Mrs. Evans, Mrs. Kushner & Supt. Merrill,

It is absolutely reprehensible to read about this situation that occurred in my community - and my schools - from WRAL. 

Considering the climate we live in today and the incidents that have occurred in schools across the country, it is completely unacceptable for this information to be withheld from parents. To add insult to injury,  your so-called policies have allowed this student back into the public school system to attend the very same school as those he threatened. There is no indication that any other actions by the Board or the superintendent have or will be taken regarding the safety and protection of our children from this student. For God's sake, he brought a gun, PULLED THE TRIGGER, and then threatened to bring bullets the next time. When is the next time? Are you waiting to react after the fact?

I demand answers as to why we, as parents and as members of the Apex community, were not notified of this when it occurred last year. I demand to know why this dangerous student is allowed back into our schools after, as School Board member Keith Sutton says, "they have served their time" with a one year suspension. I truly empathize for the parents of these victims who have been ignored and lied to by this School Board. I am outraged and ashamed at each and every one of you.

Allison Backhouse
Apex, NC


Monday, August 24, 2015

What's the question; what's the answer?

In 2009, the parents of Wake County spoke. They elected a majority on theWCPSS School Board who supported the end to the mindless reassignment of their children. These School Board members bravely broke the mold after decades of diversity busing. Busing that not only adversely affected the education of suburban students but was eventually proven by WCPSS itself to have no positive impact on the education of the poor students targeted for those long distance assignments. After a few immediate and key resignations and retirements, many doors were opened to the changes needed in our school system.

The assignment policy was amended. Diversity goals were removed. An emphasis was placed on the educational needs of students and the involvement of parents. After years of mandatory year-round assignments and families split by school calendars, choice was resurrected. The ’09 School Board members ran on a platform of providing the necessary resources to students – not busing students for diversity under the guise of a better education. Their policies promoted stability, community involvement, and predictability in assignment in their attempt to create a school system that was responsive not critical.

But that didn’t last long.

Some were outraged at the very thought of removing diversity as a goal in assignment. They did all they could to create and spread fear around our community of what could happen. They painted their own message in the media of resegregation and the isolation of minorities. In 2011, a new majority-Democratic Board was elected to save and restore diversity.

So how is it that just last week the N&O published in an article that states the number of high-poverty schools has more than doubled under the direction of the new School Board? Let that sink in….more than doubled – from 18 to 46. Twelve WCPSS schools now have populations of more than 70% low-income students. There were none under the ’09 Board.

The current School Board has had five years to undo the changes they deemed as “destructive” and “racist” and yet have chosen to do absolutely nothing. Not only have they not taken any action on the changes made back in ’09, their inaction and apathy have done more to make their fears a reality than anything else. And their friends - who raised a ruckus and feigned concern about the “loss” of diversity - are now silent and uninterested because their Democratic friends are faithfully leading the charge.

Or are they?

The N&O editorial this past weekend addresses this issue. It questions these numbers but it totally misses the mark. The question we should be asking is not “Do we pursue diversity or do we let segregation return?” That is a lazy, simple-minded question and only serves to create the same fearful rhetoric we heard years ago.

What we should be asking is “What can we do to improve education for every child in Wake County?” It’s a tough question with many answers and just as many opinions. I agree that we are at a crossroads as a county and community. But diversity is not it. There are so many others ways to improve education and address the needs of our students than assignment. There are better conversations to have. Our crossroads is ensuring we don’t go back to the way it was.

Although our current School Board has managed to create a school system that reflects exactly what they claimed they were against, we simply can’t let the diversity pendulum swing completely back.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Snow Job

Spring Break is gone. Well, most of it. Families were blindsided by WCPSS with a complete reversal decision announcement on Saturday about the winter weather make up days.

Parents are angry. So far, over 7,500 parents, teachers, and students have signed a petition to show how angry they are. Many families have long-standing nonrefundable travel plans. Many were looking forward to this one of very few opportunities to be together for the week.

I understand their anger. And their frustration. But let's make sure we understand what we really should be angry about. It's not about Spring Break. It's about why and how we lost Spring Break.

In a nutshell, this is the epitome of bad governance.

Let's begin by understanding that the 2014-2015 school calendar has built-in make up days. According to the WCPSS website: March 23, June 9, June 10, and June 11 are the Teacher Work Days "Available for Weather Make up".

Board Chair Christine Kushner and Supt. Merrill first told us that June wouldn't be used and our children would be attending school on Good Friday and two Saturdays in order to provide "quality instructional time".

What a load. Last Friday was originally planned as an early-release day. It was extended 2 1/2 hours to a full day to make up for one of the missed snow days. But then... it was delayed 2 hours again due to ice that didn't happen. Where did that "quality instruction time" go?

And what about the day WCPSS waited to cancel school until after a few buses hit the road? That "quality instruction" isn't being made up at all.

Enough of that, let's talk about the governance issue.

On Tuesday, March 3rd's work session, WCPSS staff recommended using Good Friday and two Saturdays. Go to 46:55 mark of their work session.

At the 55:25 mark of the Board work session, Supt. Merrill clearly supports use of this option as a way to protect Spring Break for families.

At the 58:00 mark, Cathy Moore asks for support of this staff recommendation and Chair Kushner responds "You have consensus support of that recommendation."


Even the so loved WCPSS Twitter account tweeted:

(They're not so sassy anymore, are they?)

So, what could possibly have happened between Tuesday and Saturday? That's the big question.

An even bigger and more concerning question is... why the quiet announcement on a Saturday? Since the Board wasn't scheduled to meet, who made this decision to use Spring Break days?

What's the point of having a public discussion and "consensus approval" from the Board about the make up days if they're not going to follow it?

Why include input from staff and communicate this to the public if they are just going to run roughshod and make up their own rules without any transparent discussion?

I understand staff met again on Friday and Saturday to discuss this. What influenced them to convene again to discuss a different option? Who was at that meeting? Was the Board involved? If so, how? I've asked for minutes from this meeting but there are no minutes taken at staff meetings.

Did WCPSS violate the public records law by deleting records from Twitter and Facebook about previous discussions and decisions?

And where in the world is Supt. Merrill? Mr. Mustache didn't even show up to defend this decision in today's press conference. Instead, he sent Deputy Superintendent Cathy Moore to do his dirty work. Coward.

So many questions...

But, again, this isn't really about Spring Break. Losing Spring Break is simply the result of bad governance, a lack of transparency, and a Board that does what it wants to do, regardless of policy.

I'm just hoping those 7,500 people will remember this next election.


Sunday, December 21, 2014

Tomorrow is Yesterday

Well, well, well.  It really is true.

The Democratic-led WCPSS School Board is clearly rebranding the vision of the '09 Republican-led School Board and calling it their own.

You read that right.

The Democrats have not brought back diversity busing as their supporters elected them to do. In fact, according to WCPSS staff, they have no intention of using diversity assignments anymore.

Yes, yes. I know. Even after all those protests, disruptions, and arrests back in 2010; even after all the media play over how removing the long-standing diversity policy would destroy our school system and our community; even after watching Rev. Barber and his uber-liberal GSIW crew disrupt meeting after meeting with dancing, praying, singing, and name-calling over the end to diversity busing. Yup, even after all that, the Democratic Board isn't going to do it.

Instead, they are continuing the vision of the Margiotta-led Board and the work by Supt. Tata.

But, how can that be? How can Susan Evans, Jim Martin, Christine Kushner, the 3 current Board members who were part of the GSIW leadership team and who have stood side-by-side with Rev. Barber at protests and Moral Mondays, now see things MY way?

Bizarro world, indeed.

And think about it. Putting an end to diversity assignments back in '09 was an outrage. The liberals lashed out and decried the policy change as "resegregation" and said we were heading back to the days of Jim Crow. They then caused enough ruckus and created enough fear across our county to regain control in the next election.

Geez, guys. What was the big deal?

This School Board is doing exactly what the Margiotta-led Board was trying to do: End the long bus rides for poor and minority students and bring the resources to the students and schools that need them the most.

Did anyone hear that message back then?

When Supt. Tata was leading the charge, it was called Managed Performance Empowerment (MPE) and was part of his 2012 strategic plan. High-needs schools were identified and given more funding to improve academics. I blogged about the ending of this program - the Renaissance schools - and their funding back in June.

And, yet, lo and behold, the WCPSS staff announced last week that, rather than busing, they too will be using the MPE model and provide extra resources to high-needs schools.

Hmm, oddly familiar and eerily quiet.

I was hesitant to believe that Supt. Merrill and this Board were going to simply repackage Tata's work and the vision of the '09 Board when they came out with a new academic formula earlier this year - one that didn't place a priority on diversity assignments.

Today, I'm glad to see things playing out as they should have in 2009.

And without all the noise.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Irrational Numbers

A research paper about WCPSS was released this past June. It's titled "Middle School Math Acceleration and Equitable Access to 8th Grade Algebra: Evidence from the Wake County Public School System" and speaks very highly of WCPSS' math placement policy. And yet it has received no media attention, no mention of it by the School Board, and not a peep about it from Supt. Merrill.

But, why? Why would such an important document - one that shows that a simple change in policy has resulted in academic success for many minority and low-income students - not be lauded by the Wake County Public School System?

Let's go back to 2009 so you understand the whole story.

In 2009, a scathing report was released by SAS that accused WCPSS and their data reporting of "hiding an inequitable situation for students in schools serving more FRPL [free reduced price lunch] students." Under the leadership of then-Supt. Burns (the coward that left when he couldn't stand the heat), WCPSS had been purposefully withholding minority and economically-disadvantaged (ED) students from being placed in Algebra 1, even though they were academically ready.

Shameful, right? Even worse, Supt. Burns had the nerve to suppress this report for months - with no intention of releasing it to the public. No wonder he hightailed it out of town.

Fortunately, the then-School Board (you know, the ones that were painted as evil and racist) immediately worked to address this educationally-damaging practice that was restricting access to Hispanic and Black middle school students. Yes, that's right. They focused on academics; not diversity.

But this wasn't without strong opposition from the "diversity lover" Democrats.

School Board member Kevin Hill and newly-elected Jim Martin fought against allowing access to these children. Even though Hill acknowledged that some students had been wrongly held back, the Democratic Board members still believed that these minority children weren't capable of achieving.

Ironic, isn't it? The very people that were supported by the NAACP and Rev. Barber, the very people who stood arm in arm at protests and candlelight vigils, the very people who were elected to "protect diversity" were completely against implementing a policy that provided minority students opportunities to succeed.

Passing this policy was a huge step forward. Enforcing this new policy and unwinding years of a culture of low expectations was daunting. As the paper points out, "..compliance with the policy appeared more modest in its first few years." However, after a "powerful directive" from Supt. Tata, "...compliance with the policy became stronger over time".

The result? Enrollment in Algebra 1 nearly doubled from 2009 to 2011.

(Side note: let's not forget that Kevin Hill and his fellow Board members hated Tata's leadership style. Maybe because Tata demanded and expected results. Unlike Supt. Merrill, who does...what?)

And it wasn't just enrollment that increased. After the policy had been in effect for a full year and thousands of students were added to Algebra 1, much to the dismay of the Democrat School Board members, overall performance for all students in Algebra I went up 1.1%. 

So, read the paper. It's a lot to digest but here are some important facts about the policy change:
  • We know from the End-of-Course (EOC) data that >95% of students placed are successful.
  • The inclusion of ED and minority students in 8th grade Algebra I has significantly increased.
  • Providing access to higher-level math exposed ED and minority students to teachers who were of average or greater than average effectiveness. Historically, these children have not had access to highly-effective teachers.

This is all great news but, under our current leadership, some very important questions and concerns remain:
  • Has inclusion remained a goal of the system?
  • Do students stay on an accelerated track once in high school?
  • As the paper points out, this policy had to be mandated by Supt. Tata. What is Supt. Merrill's mandate? 

The math placement guidelines may be the same in writing as they were in 2010 but compliance to the policy is now unknown. Transparency is something this Board has lacked since day one. Are all qualified children, regardless of socioeconomic status or race, still given access to the proper math class? Supt. Tata demanded that the data regarding placement be transparent. Supt Merrill? Not so much.

So, now you know. Acknowledgement of this success by the Tata-hating School Board would be extolling the virtues of Tata's leadership and decisions. That will simply never happen.

And, considering Board members haven't changed their opinion on the capabilities of poor and minority children, don't hold your breath on any mention of this paper any time soon.

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