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.


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:


NC Department of Information Technology issues scathing rebuke of Superintendent Mark Johnson’s Istation procurement process

On Monday, the Department of Information Technology issued a scathing rebuke of NC Superintendent Mark Johnson’s handling of the troubled Istation contract award process.  

The entire order is posted at the bottom so you can see it for yourself, but read on for the most important highlights.

In upholding its stay of Istation’s contract while it conducts a thorough review of the procurement, DIT noted the following:

1)  DPI didn’t fully consider the required evaluation factors of the procurement as mandated by state law.

There is sufficient information before the undersigned presented in the parties’ filings and during oral argument to indicate that NCDPI failed to fully consider the minimum required factors listed in N.C. Sess. Law. 2017-57 § 7.27.(c), and instead, relied on other evaluation factors.

2.  DPI changed the evaluation criteria in the middle of the procurement process in a way that benefited Istation.

There is sufficient information before the undersigned presented in the parties’ filings to indicate that NCDPI not only changed the evaluation criteria, but altered the ranking of the importance of remaining criteria in a way that benefited Istation.

3.  DPI altered the scope and intent of negotiations without notifying DIT.

According to NCDPI’s Request for Cancellation completed on 21 March 2019, NCDPI communicated to NCDIT that it would use the evaluation criteria contained in RFP No. 40-RQ20680730 in its negotiations with Amplify and Istation. There is sufficient information before the undersigned presented in the parties’ filings and oral arguments to indicate that NCDPI materially altered the intent or scope of the solicitations during negotiations and did not notify NCDIT of these changes in violation of 09 NCAC 06B .0316.

4.  DPI removed all evaluation panel members who voted for Amplify’s mClass tool, retaining only those who had previously voted for Istation.

“There is sufficient information before the undersigned presented in the parties’ filings and oral arguments to indicate that NCDPI removed all evaluation panel members who voted for Amplify in the fall of 2018 during the RFP process, and in selecting a vendor during subsequent negotiations, NCDPI retained only those evaluation panel members who had previously voted for Istation.

In summary, DPI “failed to comply with applicable statutory law and information technology procurement rules…and jeopardized the integrity and fairness of the procurement process.”

DIT did deny Amplify’s attempt to block the Memorandum of Understanding between Istation and DPI which allows Istation to operate in North Carolina free of charge pending the outcome of the ongoing review.  That decision allows Istation to get more and more firmly entrenched in North Carolina’s schools while DIT’s review continues.

Still, it appears that the writing could be on the wall for Istation and its North Carolina contract.

The week of January 13 a hearing will be held which should determine whether this case is decided in Istation or Amplify’s favor.

Hours after DIT issued its decision, Mark Johnson released the following official statement referring to the hearing officer that made the ruling as incompetent. It’s the same officer that will rule on the case next month. Brilliant move, Superintendent Johnson.


Lt. Governor Dan Forest’s rabidly partisan email to 100,000 teachers–sent two days after he filed to run for governor–is highly unethical

On Friday, North Carolina Lt. Governor (and candidate for governor) Dan Forest released an open letter to “North Carolina teachers and school personnel.”  The message was sent directly to all teachers via their school email addresses by Forest’s Director of Communications Jamey Faulkenbury.

In the rabidly partisan letter, Forest smears former Democratic leadership for “incompetent mismanagement” and cuts to education funding which were made during the height of the Great Recession.  He praises Republicans for what he frames as significant investments in education since they took over in 2011. He blasts Governor Cooper for vetoing this year’s budget and education-related funding.  Finally, he mocks the North Carolina Association of Educators’ membership numbers and says the teachers’ association has fought “tooth and nail to ensure you do not receive a pay raise.”

You can read the letter for yourself here:


Forest’s diatribe followed a letter that Governor Roy Cooper sent to public school principals on Thursday, updating educators on the budget situation and calling for negotiations on salary increases.  

After Cooper’s letter was sent, conservatives raised ethical and legal questions about the governor’s use of state email for what they perceived as political activity.  It’s unclear whether they have the same questions about Dan Forest’s communication, which upped the inflammatory partisan rhetoric ante considerably and also reached each teacher directly rather than leaving distribution to principals’ discretion.

Forest’s email may not technically violate State Board policy or state statute, but for a Lieutenant Governor to use the power of his office and state email to spread blatant campaign propaganda lambasting Governor Cooper to 100,000 potential voters just two days after filing to run for governor is extremely unethical.

On a related note, it’s fair to wonder how Lt. Governor Forest could have gotten his hands on the email addresses of all of North Carolina’s teachers.  Who would possibly be in a position to supply Forest with that information?

NC education software giant SAS paying for state legislators to attend anti-public school ALEC’s annual meetings

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is an infamous legislation factory which is notoriously hostile toward traditional public schools.  Its model bills are passed into law–often word for word–by state legislatures around the country.  

ALEC’s education platform claims the nation’s K-12 education system is “failing our students, leaving them unprepared for college, careers, or life,” and the policies the organization writes for lawmakers offer a smorgasbord of legislative pathways for defunding public schools, especially those that serve high-poverty students.  

That’s why it’s so disappointing to learn that one of North Carolina K-12 public education’s most high-profile partners, SAS Institute, is paying for members of North Carolina’s General Assembly to travel to ALEC’s annual meetings, where viewing and discussing the group’s suggested anti-public school policies is one of the primary activities.

SAS Institute is a privately held analytics software company based in Cary, NC.  Its founder and CEO James Goodnight’s net worth is estimated at more than $13 billion, making him the richest person in North Carolina by a wide margin.  

SAS has an extremely cozy relationship with the NC Department of Public Instruction (DPI).  Just last month, for example, SAS hosted an event where company software specialists and professional educators including DPI Deputy Superintendent of District Support Dr. Beverly Emory presented on how to use SAS data in public schools.

Millions of North Carolina taxpayer dollars go to SAS every year for a variety of software-related education contracts.  The company provides K-12 teachers with EVAAS ratings, which employ a secret algorithm to measure individual teachers’ effectiveness using DPI’s standardized test data.  It also produces the North Carolina School Report Cards

North Carolina’s School Report Cards assign each school a single A-F letter grade representing its overall performance. The report cards have been controversial since state legislators introduced them in 2013 as the grades are highly correlated with levels of poverty and sometimes have the effect of pushing families away from traditional public schools.

Probably not by coincidence, ALEC has been peddling its “A-Plus Literacy Act” to lawmakers since early 2011.  The model bill recommends a statewide A-F school report card system with a special focus on reporting results for students who score in the lowest 25th percentile, and it refers to the grading system as a “lynchpin for reforms.”  One such reform is also included in the bill, as ALEC recommends students who attend F schools be given an opportunity to enroll in private schools instead.

According to filings with the NC Secretary of State’s office, in August of 2018 and August of 2019, SAS Institute paid for meals and travel expenses for 19 members and staff of the North Carolina General Assembly to attend ALEC’s annual meetings.  

A leaked copy of the attendee list from the August 2019 meeting in Austin, TX, shows the North Carolina delegation included Senators Chuck Edwards and Todd Johnson, both of whom serve on the Senate Education Committee.

It’s not particularly surprising that members of the North Carolina General Assembly would attend an ALEC meeting where they can learn about the latest cookie-cutter legislation with their buddies from around the country.  

What is objectionable is that SAS Institute, a company that positions itself as a friend of public education, is taking taxpayer dollars in exchange for services to our K-12 public schools, then using some of that money to ensure that our legislators are spoon fed policies that are ultimately damaging to those same schools.