Explosive new Istation allegation: Department of Public Instruction spied on retired director

Explosive new allegations were revealed by Amplify’s attorney at this week’s hearing on the Istation contract: A text message at the center of the months-long controversy was intercepted by DPI staff who used the laptop of the former Director of K-3 Literacy to monitor her personal communications for more than a year after her retirement.  

Carolyn Guthrie served as K-3 Literacy Director from December 2012 to September 2017, working the last several months of her tenure under Johnson.  Guthrie had her DPI-issued laptop synced with her personal cell phone so she could read text messages on her computer, and when she retired she apparently neglected to unsync the phone before turning her laptop in to IT.  As with any such organization, the Department of Public Instruction has a policy that devices of departing employees must be wiped clean. DPI reportedly did not follow that policy with Carolyn Guthrie’s laptop in September of 2017.

On January 8, 2019, Superintendent Mark Johnson called a meeting with the evaluation committee which was working on a recommendation for a K-3 reading assessment.  Johnson had spent a month digesting a proposal made by the team in early December that ranked Amplify Education’s mClass product an overwhelming first.

At the meeting, Johnson commented about the importance of freeing up more time for teachers to teach and the need to provide them with the right tools.  The superintendent then asked the 10 voting members present to vote for a second time and stepped out of the room “to maintain integrity of the process.”  

After the superintendent exited the room, team members wrote their choices on sticky notes, and the project manager tallied the results.  Amplify again easily came out on top, with six people recommending negotiations proceed with Amplify only, three with Istation only, and one voting that negotiations continue with both companies. 

RFP-meeting-January-8-with-Mark-Johnson

Here’s where the text message comes in.  Later the same day, a text message conversation occurred between Carolyn Guthrie and another former DPI employee occurred, apparently based on information provided by a member of the evaluation committee who was present at the meeting with Mark Johnson.

Below is a transcript of that conversation:

Well, just got off another call with AW 1 hour 45 minutes all about RFP.  What a mess!

Geez!  What is going on?

MJ came into their voting meeting today to basically (without coming directly out and specifying) tell them how to vote!  However the vote did not go his way so it will be interesting to see how he gets his way on this.

OMG!  I know they were shocked!

Yep, she said they walked out of the building and several people said what just happened?

Someone, AW should have recorded it on her phone!

She thought about it, but her phone was lying on the table in front of everyone

Oh yeah, that would have been tough…who else was in the room?  Have they named a replacement for Amy J?

RB. She and RB and Cindy Dewey and Lynne Loeser and Kristy Day and Susan Laney voted for children.  Pam, Chloe and one of Mark’s staff voted for helping teachers. She said he talked about helping teachers and never once mentioned children and saving the teachers time.  

Ass

The sad thing is, he may win his next race because he will talk about how he helped teachers!

Well that’s why he’s pushing this.  Children can’t VOTE so we appease lazy ass teachers.

Exactly!

Two months after this meeting, Johnson had his General Counsel inform the team that the procurement process would be cancelled due to an unspecified confidentiality breach and the team’s failure to achieve unanimous consensus.  Johnson then assembled a new, smaller evaluation committee which included his close advisors but was almost entirely devoid of educators or subject matter experts with relevant experience.  The new committee recommended Istation instead of mClass, and in June 2019 Johnson awarded Istation the contract.

The existence of the text message wasn’t made public until Superintendent Johnson issued his official response denying Amplify’s protest of the contract award at the end of July 2019.  In the response, Johnson said “a whistleblower provided evidence of a text message discussion detailing how committee members had voted…” and he framed this breach of confidentiality as part of his grounds for cancelling the procurement process.  

In the supporting Exhibits for Amplify Protest Decision, this redacted screenshot version of the text message was provided:

The next major development around the text message occurred in October of 2019, when Mark Johnson’s Deputy Superintendent for Operations Kathryn Johnston filed a sworn affidavit as a part of the ongoing review of the procurement process by the Department of Information Technology.  In the affidavit, Johnston revealed the identity of the individual who had leaked details of the January 8 2019 meeting as Abbey Whitford, a K-3 literacy consultant who had served on the evaluation committee, and the individuals communicating in the text message as Carolyn Guthrie and another former DPI literacy consultant, Anne Evans.  

An unredacted screenshot of the text message appeared in Johnston’s affidavit:

Kathryn-Johnston-Affidavit-Text-Message

This time Guthrie’s inbox is visible, and the screenshot displays several days of messages from January 2019, presumably from friends and family.  

The lone media report about the October affidavit repeated Mark Johnson’s July language and again referred to the text message as having been provided by “a whistleblower,” but it’s interesting to note that Kathryn Johnston’s affidavit, made under oath, does not include this language.  Rather, Johnston simply says that she has been made aware of the text message:

According to the allegations, here’s how the Department of Public Instruction really got its hands on the personal text message between two former employees:

Guthrie had Text Message Forwarding set up on her DPI-issued Apple laptop, enabling her to read and write iMessages from her personal iPhone on the computer.  When she retired in 2017 and turned the computer back in to DPI’s IT department, she forgot to log out of the feature.  

At the time of Guthrie’s departure, her laptop should have been completely purged and refreshed to prepare it for the next user as per usual procedure.  DPI allegedly neglected to follow that policy, and for at least 16 months after her retirement, unknown individuals at the Department of Public Instruction had access to Carolyn Guthrie’s personal text message communications.  

It’s impossible to say how much spying occurred during this time.  However, the screenshot–and lack of explanation for how DPI came to have Guthrie’s personal text message–lends credence to the allegation that Guthrie’s communication was being actively monitored.

If individuals at DPI were in fact intercepting the text messages of a former employee, it will be interesting to see what laws may apply to this activity.  

North Carolina’s statute on interception of electronic communication, § 15A-287, is a “one party consent” law.  It states that, without the consent of at least one person involved in the communication, it is a Class H felony if a person “Willfully intercepts, endeavors to intercept, or procures any other person to intercept or endeavor to intercept, any wire, oral, or electronic communication.”  

Note that § 15A-287 ends with the following:

Any public officer who shall violate subsection (a) or (d) of this section or who shall knowingly violate subsection (e) of this section shall be removed from any public office he may hold and shall thereafter be ineligible to hold any public office, whether elective or appointed. 

In the event that this alleged spying does not fall under North Carolina wiretapping law, hopefully we can at least all agree that it’s incredibly unethical and shameful to knowingly monitor personal communications of former employees.  If someone at DPI was simply negligent and forgot to wipe the laptop clean, the moment it was discovered that Carolyn Guthrie’s personal text messages were still syncing to the device, it should have been purged and she should have been notified.  

Instead, the text message at the center of the Istation controversy was allegedly intercepted by someone in the department and provided to Superintendent Mark Johnson who then used it as a reason for cancelling the K-3 reading assessment procurement process at the very moment when it was going overwhelmingly in Amplify’s favor.

Regardless of whether Johnson was personally involved in conducting surveillance on a former employee, he is ultimately responsible for what happens at the Department of Public Instruction.

Department of Information Technology threatens to block Mark Johnson’s emergency Istation purchase

In a tersely worded memo sent to the Department of Public Instruction today, NC Department of Information Technology Chief Procurement Officer Patti Bowers warned that the state’s Chief Information Officer could exercise his statutory authority to “cancel or suspend any information technology procurement that occurs without the State CIO’s approval.”

The memo referred to Superintendent Mark Johnson’s $928,570 “emergency purchase” of the controversial online reading assessment Istation made late Tuesday night.

Emergency purchases require authorization of the CIO with few exceptions. One of those exceptions is if they “must be made outside normal business hours.”

In the memo, DIT noted that “If every contract signed after business hours constituted an emergency, the term would be rendered meaningless.”

Johnson has until 10 AM on Tuesday, January 14 to provide satisfactory responses to the following questions. If he fails to respond, or if the responses provided are not satisfactory, it appears likely the state CIO could well intervene and cancel the Istation purchase:

1. Why was prior verbal approval not obtained and why was it necessary to execute the RFQ after business hours? Please supply copies of emails, notes, and native documents together with associated metadata or similar records.

2. What are the specific emergency event(s) that constitute the “recent circumstances endanger[ing] the continuation of Read to Achieve (“RtA”)” as referenced in the “Emergency Purchase-RtA Reading Diagnostic Assessment” dated January 7, 2020?

3. Clarify the costs associated with the RFQ and compare those costs to the costs proposed in the original contract in order to determine if there are any discrepancies.

4. The RFQ presents two payments which appear to be installments and are not aligned with the costs presented. Describe the services and term for Phase I with a payment due date of 1/15/2020 and Phase II with a payment due date of 3/15/2020.

5. Do the costs for either Phase I or Phase II include payment for services rendered under the “no cost” Memorandum of Agreement executed August 27, 2019, and expiring December 31, 2019? Provide documentation that the “no cost” services were received and accepted without further obligation by either party

You can read the memo in its entirety below:

NCDIT-Emergency-Purchase-response-1.10.2020


Emergency Istation purchase may have violated NC’s administrative code

A contract signed late Tuesday night between Superintendent Mark Johnson and Istation may have violated North Carolina’s administrative code governing technology procurements.  Those rules require approval of the state’s Chief Information Officer for such an emergency purchase except under very specific conditions–conditions which may not have been met.

On Tuesday, a Wake County Superior Court judge declined to intervene in the ongoing contract dispute between Amplify and Istation on behalf of the Department of Public Instruction (DPI).  DPI had petitioned to have the court lift a contract stay put in place by the Department of Information (DIT) while DIT reviews the controversial process Johnson followed in awarding Istation an $8.3 million contract.

The ruling was issued before 11:00 AM, as you can see on this tweet by Education NC’s Liz Bell:

The judge’s decision briefly left schools without access to a K-3 reading assessment as required by Read to Achieve legislation.  

Almost exactly twelve hours later (10:36 pm according to the time stamp on the contract), Johnson inked an emergency purchase of Istation for $928,570.

In unusually late-night email to school districts sent immediately thereafter, Johnson explained that he had just made an emergency purchase as allowed under state procurement rule 09 NCAC 06B .1302 to ensure schools could meet legal requirements on testing.

Here’s the $928,570 question:  Why was Mark Johnson conducting this business at such a late hour?  Wouldn’t Tuesday afternoon have been a great time for it? Better yet, wouldn’t a government agency conducting itself prudently have come up with a contingency plan well in advance of the judge’s Tuesday morning decision, knowing schools would need to administer tests the next day?

The answer to that question may lie in the procurement rule Johnson cited:

09 NCAC 06B .1302 EMERGENCY SITUATIONS OR PRESSING NEED

(a) An agency may make purchases of goods or services in the open market in cases of emergency or pressing need. (b) When emergency or pressing need action is necessary, and the estimated expenditure is over the purchasing agency’s delegation, prior verbal approval shall be obtained from the State CIO unless the purchase must be made outside of business hours, during holidays or when state offices are otherwise closed. Subsequently, if the expenditure is over the purchasing agency’s delegation, an explanation of the emergency or pressing need purchase shall be reported in writing to the State CIO.

Note that permission for an emergency purchase such as the one Mark Johnson made requires approval of the Chief Information Officer unless “the purchase must be made outside of business hours, during holidays or when state offices are otherwise closed.”  

The key word here is must.  Why was it this purchase couldn’t be made during business hours?  Why didn’t Mark Johnson seek approval of the CIO in purchasing Istation?

This is probably a good time to mention that North Carolina’s Chief Information Officer happens to be Eric Boyette, head of the Department of Information Technology–the same agency which issued the stay of the Istation contract to begin with.  

The amount of the emergency Istation contract may also be significant.  According to State Board of Education policy, “Any contractual obligation that would result in an expenditure of [$1 M] or more requires the approval of the SBE.”  That same State Board grilled Johnson about the purchase at Wednesday’s monthly meeting during a tense exchange which made it seem unlikely the board would have approved such a move.  Since the Istation price tag came in 71K under the threshold mandated in board policy, Johnson didn’t need their approval.

On January 13, the Department of Information Technology’s administrative hearing on the procurement process Johnson followed with Istation is set to begin.  The hearing officer is DIT General Counsel Jonathan Shaw, and Mark Johnson has already blasted Shaw for “the incompetence with which he has conducted this review process.”  

Get your popcorn ready.

Superintendent Mark Johnson defies DIT contract stay, spends nearly $1 million on Istation

Late last night, NC Superintendent Mark Johnson notified school districts that he had just made an “emergency purchase” with Istation so that schools could continue using the controversial K-3 reading assessment.

In the email, Johnson explained that the move would enable schools to comply with the state’s Read to Achieve legislation after a district court judge declined to intervene on DPI’s behalf in the ongoing legal battle.

The email didn’t say that Johnson had just put nearly $1 million in Istation’s pockets for three months access to the online reading test.  It also didn’t mention that the purchase defies a stay issued by the Department of Information Technology which had blocked implementation of the Istation contract while that department–which has authority over state technology procurements–reviews the controversial process Johnson followed in awarding it.  

Johnson’s argument is that, in purchasing Istation, he is simply following the Read to Achieve law, which requires that students in grades K-3 “shall be assessed with valid, reliable, formative, and diagnostic reading assessments.”   However, it’s important to note that there are free reading assessments available that have already been approved by the State Board of Education which could be used while the Istation contract is reviewed.

Another alternative could have been for Istation to extend the Memorandum of Agreement it had crafted with DPI to allow North Carolina schools to continue using its product for free while it awaits a final ruling.

At any rate, Istation no longer has to wait for its cheddar, as Johnson’s emergency purchase spends $928,570 taxpayer dollars for access to the computer-based reading test from now through the end of March.

As long as we’re making emergency purchases, I know some social studies teachers who would love to have new textbooks so their students don’t have to keep drawing pictures of the last decade’s presidents…

You can review the emergency purchase document in its entirety below:

Istation-Emergency-Purchase

Leandro report calls for return of thousands of K-3 teaching assistants cut by state legislators

Last month the much-anticipated Leandro report was made public.  The report is the result of a comprehensive, year-long study by non-partisan education consultants WestEd who were appointed by North Carolina courts to take a systematic look at whether or not the state is living up to its constitutional mandate to provide a “sound basic education” to each child.

Spoiler alert–it isn’t.

It’s important to understand that the WestEd’s Leandro report is not so much a progress report as a detailed road map toward compliance for state legislators.  

Any K-3 teacher will tell you how hard it is to manage behaviors and differentiate instruction for a large group of early elementary students with only one adult in the classroom.  Yet in the last decade in North Carolina we’ve seen our numbers of teaching assistants reduced by more than 8,500, the vast majority of them state-funded positions.  

Over the same decade we’ve lost those thousands of teaching assistants, student enrollment in North Carolina schools has increased by 12%.  

One of the recommendations made in the Leandro report is that North Carolina “fully fund teaching assistants in the early grades (K–3) to ensure adequate student-to-staff ratios for fostering responsive relationships and effective instruction.”

Returning the thousands of teaching assistants who have fallen victim to budget cuts over the last decade is going to be a vital step toward providing students with the education guaranteed to them in our constitution.  

Sound-Basic-Education-for-All-An-Action-Plan-for-North-Carolina


Hey teachers! This holiday season, give yourself the gift of a real break

Few phrases ring sweeter to the classroom teacher’s ear than the words ‘Winter Break.’  But for many, the anticipation of two weeks off competes with anxiety over a lengthy To Do list.  What about the lessons that need planning, the thick stack of essays that needs grading? Surely it couldn’t hurt to bring home just a little bit of work for when the break gets boring.

That’s how it starts.  Unfortunately, all too often that ‘little bit of work’ turns into hours and hours of school-related duties completed off the clock at the expense of friends, family, and, most of all, yourself.

The expense may be higher than you realize.  According to a 2018 University of Pennsylvania study, 44.6% of teachers quit within the first five years of their career.  The relatively high attrition rate for beginning teachers has been holding steady since the 1980s.

The study also found that the number one reason given by teachers who leave is dissatisfaction with school and working conditions.  Those conditions include a variety of factors such as low salaries, classroom resources, student behavior, and school leadership.  They also include workload.  

Unreasonable workloads are often imposed by others, but as teachers we regularly impose them upon ourselves as well.  Taking on more than we should is driven by a desire to help that child who is three grade levels behind in reading to catch up as much as possible in the one year we have with them.  By the understanding that detailed, personalized feedback is the best way to improve student writing. By the fervent belief that our own hard work is the most important key to opening doors of opportunity for the children we serve.

The intense pressure we place on ourselves is a recipe for burnout if we don’t couple it with healthy boundaries and regular, intentional self care.  

So this holiday season, please say no to the To Do list and give yourself the much-deserved gift of a real break.  Leave those papers on your desk where they belong. Delete your school email account from your phone. Go out for drinks with your friends, and sleep til 10 the next day.  Take that hot yoga class you’ve always wondered about. Instead of brushing up on the latest pedagogy, read a book that has nothing to do with education.  

Take time to completely unplug from your professional life without the slightest pang of conscience, believing to your core that what you accomplish during school hours is absolutely enough.

Because taking care of yourself is essential to a long and successful teaching career.

The most important learning isn’t measured by standardized tests

a sampling of my students’ work

As Winter Break approaches, students in my 7th grade Language Arts classes are wrapping up work on their second quarter projects.  They have spent more than three weeks writing short stories about a picture they each chose from the Chris Van Allsburg book The Mysteries of Harris Burdick

During that time they have learned the following things:

  • Strategies for opening hooks
  • How to write vivid descriptions using sensory details
  • How to develop dynamic characters
  • Effective plot structure including resolution of conflicts and tricks like flash forwards and flashbacks
  • Tense shifts and how to avoid them
  • How to write and punctuate dialogue correctly
  • How to use online tools to create visual storyboards

Students have participated in peer editing and learned to give targeted feedback that builds their classmate’s writing up without making them feel small.  That exercise has helped us to create a more positive classroom culture and strengthen the relationships that form the foundation of everything we do in class.

The stories reflect the individuality of my students themselves and are anything but standardized.  They run the gamut from historical fiction to romance to fantasy to horror and everything in between.  One of them includes a demonic platypus, and another explores the meaning behind the magical sunglasses from the 80s cult classic science fiction film They Live.  

Over the past month I have watched students come alive through unbridled creativity. I’ve seen children with learning disabilities work twice as hard as their non-disabled peers to make their brilliant story ideas come to fruition in print.  I have watched writers, unprompted, conduct research for their projects so that they can add authentic details and make their stories richer. I’ve been blown away by the deep level of engagement I’ve seen in them all.

My intent is not to boast, as this type of profound learning occurs in countless classrooms around the country every single day.  Rather, I bring it up to make a larger point.

Much of what my 149 students have gained while working on this story project will not be measured on our standardized tests.  It won’t be reflected at all in the data which is supposed to capture successful teaching and learning in our schools.

But I guarantee that for the majority of them it will be the learning experience that has the biggest impact on them in 7th grade English.  This project has shown my students how their writing can shine when they are hardworking and intentional, and it’s my belief that the lessons they have learned will shape their approach to writing in the future.

I’ve been talking with a lot of colleagues lately about the urgent need to reimagine how we gauge the success of our teachers and schools.  Besides just plain getting it wrong, our current measures serve, intentionally or not, to drive a privatization agenda that starves our public schools of the resources they so desperately need.  In North Carolina, those measures include “value-added” EVAAS ratings for teachers as well as school report card grades that assign an A-F letter to each school based on students’ ability to answer multiple choice questions.

The WestEd Leandro report which was released last week calls for the same change over and over:  a broadening of our definitions of school progress to incorporate other important indicators which are currently ignored.  

I believe that most educators want to be evaluated on more than just their test scores.  That’s not because we want to hide our failures. It’s because teachers want the world to know what we are doing right.

Leandro report finds NC’s current principal pay plan harms high-need schools

This week the much-anticipated Leandro report by WestEd was finally made public.  The report is the result of a comprehensive, year-long study by non-partisan education consultants who were appointed by North Carolina’s courts to take a systematic look at whether the state is living up to its constitutional mandate to provide a “sound basic education” to each child.  It provides a detailed road map for improvements that need to be made to ensure that we are meeting the educational needs of our students, including how we pay our school leaders.

One critical area of need WestEd identified is providing “a qualified and well-prepared principal in every school.”  That need echoes existing research which finds that having an effective principal in place is crucial to the success of a school, especially those that serve our most disadvantaged students.  Clearly one of the most important ways we can ensure we have the right principals where they are most needed is through an effective compensation model.

North Carolina’s principal pay system was overhauled in 2017, after our ranking had slipped to an embarrassing 50th in the nation.  The new pay plan, which was crafted with intense lobbying by pro-business education reform organization Best NC, compensates school leaders based on how much their students grew on standardized tests at the end of the year, with overall pay fluctuating accordingly on an annual basis.  

The Leandro report finds that North Carolina’s system for paying principals “works against the state’s meeting the requirement of a qualified principal in every school” because it “creates a disincentive for effective principals to work in underperforming schools, which often take more than one year to improve and meet or exceed targets for growth.”  As it currently stands, if a principal who has been rated ‘effective’ moves into a low-performing school, he or she has a very short period of time to bring test scores up before seeing a reduction in salary.

Of principals who were surveyed for the Leandro study, 24% said that, as a result of the new principal pay policy, they would “seek to retire as soon as possible,” “leave to obtain principalship in another school,” or “leave the principalship.”  A whopping 44% said they “oppose” or “strongly oppose” the compensation model.  

WestEd’s recommendation is for a major overhaul of principal compensation.  Instead of tying pay solely to test scores, the report calls for broadening indicators of progress to include measures related to things like teacher recruitment/retention and school working conditions.  It suggests that North Carolina create “incentives, rather than disincentives, for working in high-need schools,” potentially including the following:

*A meaningful supplement for principals who take a position to turn around a persistently failing school

*Protection against principals having a salary reduction if they go to work in low-performing, hard-to-staff school in order to enable multiyear efforts to improve these schools

The WestEd report should serve as a major wake up call to state lawmakers who must now take action to ensure compliance with the Leandro court decision.  There’s no better place to start than working toward ensuring stable leadership in our neediest schools.

You can read the section of the WestEd report on principal compensation below.

WestEd-report-NC-principal-compensation

It’s official: Representative Craig Horn is running for NC State Superintendent. His record on education should concern us all.

According to the official State Board of Elections Candidate List, Union County Representative Craig Horn filed yesterday to run for NC Superintendent of Public Instruction.  His record on education as a state legislator shows that he’s not just unqualified—he’s anti-qualified.

Horn has never been a public school teacher or worked in education in any capacity whatsoever.  That lack of first hand understanding of the dynamics of a classroom or the day-to-day operations of a school district is problematic in and of itself.  

But it’s what Horn has done rather than what he hasn’t done that should concern educators the most.

Representative Horn has consistently voted for corporate tax cuts–six in the last seven years–which have deprived our public schools of billions of dollars in potential revenue.  He has voted for budgets which have slashed the numbers of teaching assistants we have in elementary classrooms by more than 7,000 over the last decade, making it much harder for teachers to manage behaviors and differentiate instruction for our youngest learners.  He has voted for budgets which have reduced funding for supplies and materials by 55%, leaving underpaid teachers to buy classroom resources on their own.

Horn likes to portray himself as a great supporter of teachers, but he has voted AYE on many policy changes which have directly harmed the teaching profession in North Carolina.  They include, among others:

  • Stripping master’s pay for North Carolina teachers (first state in the country to do that).
  • Abolishing career protections for North Carolina teachers, meaning any teacher can be fired at any time without opportunity to speak on their own behalf.
  • Eliminating retiree health benefits for any teacher hired after Jan 1, 2021.  Folks hired after that date will be forced to purchase private insurance on their own.  This change makes it much harder to recruit new teachers at a time when North Carolina is experiencing a major shortage.
  • Cutting all funding for the NC Teaching Fellows Program, a highly successful 25 year teacher development program which gave scholarships to high school students who committed to teaching in NC schools.

Craig Horn’s actions as a state legislator demonstrate his callous disregard for the teaching profession, and his backwards priorities on funding have contributed directly to the conditions which have prompted thousands of fed-up educators to fill the streets of Raleigh and march to Horn’s own state legislature both of the last two years. 

The last thing we need is to put one of the people who’s actually responsible for North Carolina’s current education 💩 storm in charge of our school system.

Leandro report sharply at odds with Dan Forest’s dubious claims on NC education funding

Late last week, Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest ruffled feathers by sending a highly partisan, self-serving campaign email to all 100,000 of North Carolina’s teachers.  In the email, Forest, who just filed to run for governor in next year’s general election, blasted Governor Roy Cooper’s vetoing of the state budget and an educator salary bill.  

Forest made disingenuous references to cuts in education funding that occurred under Democratic rule as a result of the Great Recession and boasted about pay increases and efforts on overall education funding that have occurred since Republicans took control of state government in 2011.

Yesterday the much-anticipated Leandro report was made public.  The report is the result of a comprehensive, year-long study by non-partisan education consultants who were appointed by North Carolina courts to take a detailed, systematic look at whether or not the state is living up to its constitutional mandate to provide a “sound basic education” to each child.

The report is 300 pages long, and it’s going to take time to digest.  But it’s clear that the consultants’ view of North Carolina’s funding of public education differs sharply with that of Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest:

North Carolina was recognized during the 1980s and 1990s as an example of how state policymakers could turn a state around by making strong investments in teachers’ knowledge and skills and in early childhood support and education and by establishing standards for students and teachers. The state was extensively studied by the National Education Goals Panel when its efforts resulted in sharp increases in student performance and reduction in the achievement gap…

However, cutbacks that began during the recession after 2008, along with much deeper legislative cuts over the last few years, have eliminated or greatly reduced many of the programs that were put in place and have begun to undermine the quality and equity gains that were previously made.

Specifically, the WestEd report finds the following changes have crippled North Carolina’s ability to serve the needs of students, particularly those of our economically disadvantaged children:

  • Cuts to funding for DPI’s District and School Transformation have hampered efforts to improve low-performing schools.
  • The state has failed to provide adequate funding for student support services (e.g. counselors and social workers).
  • The Teaching Fellows program which was so critical to providing motivated, high quality teachers to North Carolina classrooms was discontinued by legislators and subsequently restarted at a much smaller scale.
  • Funding for professional development of teachers has decreased.
  • Budget cuts have reduced the total number of teachers employed in NC by 5% from 2009 to 2018.  During that time, student enrollment has increased 12%, meaning much larger class sizes.
  • Over the last decade, changes to curriculum have occurred as part of an effort to prepare students for a rapidly advancing society.  However, there has not been adequate investment by the state in providing the professional learning needed to implement those changes effectively.
  • The number of English language learners more than doubled from 2000 to 2015 (from 3% to 7% of students), creating a need for an educator workforce that employs more culturally responsive teaching approaches.  State funding for education has not kept pace with this growth, as per-pupil spending in North Carolina has declined by 6% over the last decade when numbers are adjusted for inflation.

Education is going to be the most important campaign issue in the 2020 election.  It’s critical that we elect leaders who believe in adequately funding our schools so we that can provide North Carolina’s students with the opportunities they deserve.

The WestEd report can be found in its entirety below:

Sound-Basic-Education-for-All-An-Action-Plan-for-North-Carolina