At its Monday meeting, the Cabarrus Board of Education unanimously adopted a “Resolution to Ensure Dignity and Nondiscrimination in Schools.”
The resolution notes that the board “recognizes the importance of diversity of backgrounds, opinions, and expression as foundational to providing students with the opportunity to receive a sound basic education” before stating that student learning should not result in any “discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress.”
The Cabarrus resolution states that, while the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction is responsible for standards, it’s up to the local school board to determine which curriculum is used to teach those standards.
You can watch the board and superintendent’s brief discussion of the resolution here.
As a teacher I feel it’s important to add that learning and growing as an individual involves discomfort. That’s an inherent part of the learning process.
This resolution isn’t really about ensuring that all students are treated with dignity in schools at all. It’s about ensuring that white students don’t learn that their country has a long history of systemic oppression towards people of color and a whole host of other traditionally marginalized groups.
After all, if you want to ensure that a system continues to center you and afford you every advantage possible, the first thing you’d do is squash any efforts aimed at teaching people that such inequity exists.
In a petition released Friday, some of North Carolina’s leading voices on racial equity are calling on state lawmakers to end to efforts to whitewash history through legislation such as HB 755 and HB 324:
We, the undersigned individuals and organizations, universally condemn the widespread attempts to whitewash our education system in North Carolina by undermining efforts to better respond to the cultures, lived realities, and learning needs of Black, Indigenous, Latinx and Asian children. What children learn and the information they are exposed to shapes their understanding of the world around them. We recognize this as a transparent disinformation campaign that uses fear, intimidation and othering as tactics for impeding progress. We fully recognize the intentional perversion of so-called “Critical Race Theory” as a scapegoat, intended to delegitimize Black and brown scholarship and excite a base of voters for upcoming elections. These futile attempts are sadly part of a historical pattern. We will not sit idly by as racial resentment and dog-whistle politics are deployed to slow national momentum toward social justice.
As stated by Malcolm X, “Education is the passport to the future”. Rather than prepare students for how to share power in a multiracial democracy with a rising majority of people of color, bad faith actors in our state have instead chosen to follow patterns of the past — backlash politics. We’ve seen this movie before. We know what is happening.
The attempts to prevent any serious teaching about systemic racism, identifying groups with structural advantages or investigating historical inequality are designed to preserve the status quo and keep us trapped in a bygone era. The bills presently being considered in the North Carolina General Assembly (HB 755 & HB 324) are the latest examples of the law being used to preserve white supremacy and prevent students from learning the truth. Nearly 200 years prior, the same state legislature passed a statute outlawing enslaved Africans from reading due to the belief that “teaching of slaves to read and write, has a tendency to excite dis-satisfaction in their minds, and to produce insurrection and rebellion”. Today, they seek to prevent students of color from learning about themselves and keep white children from learning about themselves as well as hard history for fear they will look upon their communities harshly. This is educational malpractice and intellectually dishonest.
As those who champion the causes of anti-racism, racial equity, and inclusion, we are steadfast and unmovable in our conviction to teach the truth no matter what. We will advocate for the educational needs of all children, but most especially those who are historically excluded. Just as the United Daughters of the Confederacy used school systems to rewrite the story of the Civil War and spread “Lost Cause” propaganda, the rash of “anti-CRT” bills across the country are about protecting white feelings at the expense of everyone else. With more access to information than ever before in human history, these efforts at indoctrinating the youth will not be successful. We know what this is. We know they are coming for us, seeking to undermine teachers, demoralize families, and disrespect students who want better. Nevertheless, we declare our right to equal educational opportunity and commit to creating this reality. In the words of Ella Baker, “we who believe in freedom cannot rest until this happens”. If you support this statement, add your name to the petition and send it to others in your personal/professional network.
Letha Muhammad, Education Justice Alliance
Tehia Starker Glass, Associate Professor; and Founder/Director of Anti-Racism in Urban Education Graduate Certificate Program, UNC Charlotte
Christina Cole Spears
Janeen Bryant, Co-Founder and Director of Operations at the Center for Racial Equity in Education
James E. Ford, Co-Founder and Executive Director at the Center for Racial Equity in Education
Marcus Bass, NC Black Alliance
Erin T. Miller, Associate Professor, University of North Carolina at Charlotte
But if you see any smoke, it’s more likely from the copious roasts of the F.A.C.T.S. project and Robinson’s extreme politics that have been submitted through the portal.
After obtaining and reading all 506 F.A.C.T.S. submissions through a public records request, I can report that a significant number of them are complaints from people who see the lieutenant governor’s effort as a shameful political witch hunt or tongue in cheek reports intended to mock his project. In addition, many of the submissions are from North Carolinians who more generally object to his homophobic, xenophobic views.
The submissions are not all criticisms and roasts, and they do include a good bit of generic bashing of public schools, wild accusations of teachers being satanic communists, and pleas to end the persecution of white people by Robinson’s fringe base. Stay tuned for more on those.
For now, here’s a sampling of Mark Robinson FACTS roasts for the public’s information. I’ve transcribed the submissions for your reading convenience but have also included screenshots of the originals for documentation purposes.
Lieutenant Governor, Mark Robinson, publicly posted false, manipulative, and hyperpartisan political rhetoric to his constituents on Facebook, including a comparison of LGBTQ individuals to pedophiles. I do not agree with a public servant using their platform to spread divisive, false, and scientifically dishonest information in his public-facing post. Public figures, such as teachers and politicians, should not spread dishonest and scientifically inaccurate information, like calling First Lady Michelle Obama “he.”
To resolve this issue, Robinson should immediately issue an apology, take classes on human psychology/biology and resign.
I think the make up of your task force is politically charged and working in conflict with your words. You are worried about indoctrination...but yet you mainly have conservative representatives on your task force. If you agree with a course of action or a lesson in a classroom happening currently, then chances are it’s because it is a conservative or nationalistic stance. If you TRULY care about the education of our children, the makeup of your task force should represent that - and not be “irrelevant,” as you said during your press conference. You represent ALL of North Carolina...not just the red voters. In 1997, the North Carolina Supreme Court held, as a result of the Leandro v. State of NC case, that the state constitution’s right to education “is a right to a sound basic education” for EVERY student. If you are going to form an educational watchdog group, then it better be representative of the ENTIRE state, and the ONLY purpose should be improving the QUALITY of their education and NOT perpetuating a political fishing expedition. I urge you to dig deeper into this “so-called” indoctrination that you feel is running rampant in this state...because, as a veteran educator in this state, I guarantee you this “problem” is a figment of your political imagination. This is just more governmental overreach and a waste of taxpayer money from a party that is supposedly against governmental overreach and wasting taxpayer money. Thank you for your time, and I hope you read this the way it was intended. I want you to hear from someone who disagrees with you, and I hope you grow this task force with more balanced political and ideological voices. Have a good night.
My son has the most amazing teachers and staff at his school. I am SO incredibly thrilled that he is in such wonderful and loving hands. This “FACTS” initiative is completely ludicrous. You should be commending our teachers for the amazing work they have been doing during the hardest time in our nation’s recent history. Shame on you for this. We love our NC educators and support them for EVERYTHING they do to support and educate our children.
I submit the concern and complaint that the very formation of this committee is a dangerous step toward indoctrination within our public school system. I’m among many who are concerned that the F.A.C.T.S. committee, under the obviously tainted leadership of Lt. Gov. Robertson is unbothered by, but not unaware of, the dangerous irony in forming a committee to stand against “indoctrination” while denying Science and History.
There was no mask in sight at the podium today, nor any semblance of social distancing. Choosing even the word “indoctrination” is a loaded and inflammatory decision that belies you true intent. This Committee will not stand.
I know of a state that has Lt. Governor who wants to inject hatred toward school teachers as his first task in office. I know that in NC the LT. Governor has no real duties or authority, but this seems an absurd publicity stunt. Please look into this guy’s attempts to destroy public education in NC.
Our NC Lt. Governor, who advertises himself as having “traveled the state and nation spreading the conservative message”, and members of our SBOE, have an ongoing attempt to indoctrinate students into popular right-wing talking points through the manipulation of NC Social Studies Curriculum. As a parent, this is much more concerning than individual classroom teachers parroting these same ideas, as this attempt to enforce partisan indoctrination is on a much broader scale. These include, but are not limited to: perpetuating a myth of American exceptionalism* in all areas, minimizing the historical impact of majority communities in the systemic oppression of minority communities, refusal to acknowledge current government systems that perpetuate racial and socioeconomic power inequities, and the denial of generations of scientific and anthropological study that acknowledge gender fluidity.
*This* attempted indoctrination of our students is of profound concern, as I send my daughter to NC Public Schools in hopes that she will be taught a genuine reflection of her state and nation’s history, and not a whitewashed/glossed over approximation that seeks to protect those in the seats of power from experiencing any discomfort--or maybe worse, experiencing a moment of genuine reflection.
This issue is ongoing, and the Lt. Governor seems to be taking no steps to resolve the problem. If anything, he appears to be doubling-down on this right-wing indoctrination. It is deeply disappointing, particularly coming from a brazenly-partisan politician who has never served his state as a public school teacher.
*#18th standard of living, 11th in healthcare system performance, 15th in economic opportunities for women, etc. #1 in defense spending though, by almost 300%! We’re number one?(!)
I wanted to do a report about Tupac Shakur, but my teacher made me do a report about Mark Robinson since he is the first Black Lieutenant Governor in NC history and the first Black Republican elected to any major office since Reconstruction. I did my research, and it turns out Robinson is a huge homophobe, Islamaphobe, and antisemite. I complained but my teacher insisted I be exposed to conservative thought. If you can’t fire my teacher, you should at least get Lt. Gov. Robinson to resign since he’s a hateful bigot.
My daughter’s teacher recently Ms. Peffercorn was teaching the kids about left angles in her 4th grade math class. Now I’m concerned that she is being indoctrinated with liberal propaganda because they never taught her about right angles! I’m concerned and really nervous for our children.
My daughter is a freshman and in her class last week she was told by her History teacher that she had to use Times New Roman font in her essay. We are offended because the Romans killed Jesus! I can’t believe her school hates the lord!!
I would like to report that Lt. Governor Mark Robinson engaged in an attempt to indoctrinate the students of North Carolina with a politically motivated, non-factual, specific interpretation of American and North Carolina history In modifying the NC State Social Studies standards which were adopted on February 4, 2021. The proposed version of the standards reflected the consensus view of professionals in the field, including conservative, lifelong registered Republicans such as myself, but the Lieutenant Governor used his position to override these recommendations and replace them with a skewed, alternate version of the past that is not supported by the historical evidence.
Additionally, I would like to report bullying and coercion attempted by the Lieutenant Governor against educators in the state through the creation of this reporting system as a tool to force his preferred version of history on the students in North Carolina in an attempt to indoctrinate them.
This is an ongoing issue that I hope to help remedy with my vote in the next Lieutenant Gubernatorial primary and, if necessary, general elections.
This is ridiculous. What a waste of tax payers money. You all can’t handle the truth. There is much ugliness in this country’s history. As there is good in our history. Stop trying to white wash it. There is no indoctrination going on in our schools. Shame on you for trying to control what our teachers can teach. This smacks of McCarthyism. Not to mention intended polarization of our society. Try putting your efforts to something positive that draws communities together rather than dividing. 🤦♀️
I have multiple situations I'd like to report to the Task Force. In my 8th grade class (I am currently a high school senior) my social studies teacher had us run down the hallway and scream a Confederate War cry. Also in 8th grade, a speaker came in to present to the entire 8th grade class that a Confederate General and slave owner was a good and honorable person. I was also taught in some of my classes that the civil war happened because of "states rights," rather than slavery or the right to own slaves. I never learned about the experiences of slaves other than 'it was bad and they suffered.' There were no presentations given from the perspective of slaves. To me this is a form of indoctrinating students because it teaches a bias that ignores an entire group of people in the US who endured hundreds of years of slavery and implies the Confederacy had a legitimate cause. Later, in high school, when learning about the Cold war and communism, we only learned history that didn't include what communism actually is or what life was like for people in those communist countries. When learning about the Vietnam war, we learn that the US was like a savior for Vietnam against communism but don't learn about the war crimes, nor the atrocious dictators the US supported, and I only learned about The Pentagon Papers in my last year of High School. Lastly, throughout my middle school and some of my high school education I was told that Christopher Columbus was a good person and I wasn't taught the true history of Thanksgiving until I educated myself. I love America, but I think the the lack of teaching multiple perspectives in our history courses causes students to resent our great country. If we teach students multiple perspectives, we can learn from our history and prevent the negative aspects from re-occurring. It will help students accept our country's history and be patriotic in that they will want to work together to improve the United States, rather than resent it.
The teachers at my daughter’s school are convinced that the Lt Gov is an alien and that he is bent on destroying tolerance and truth in historical teachings. This is very offensive to me. Please review.
I'm reporting a racist individual spewing hate and intimidating as well as harassing teachers to push his political agenda. This anti-semitic individual is using his position of power to garner the support of white supremacists and push his radical right agenda on our curriculum in NC. Here is a YouTube video of his antisemitic racist verbal diarrhea: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mCwR4sbXBcs&t=544s
His name is Mark Robinson. I've taken steps to report his words and racist slurs to the local media and speak out against him as much as possible. Politics don't belong in schools, but he is working hard to disenfranchise students of color with his racist hate speech. He has yet to condemn anti-Asian racism in America right now, and that radical right denial of racism just has no place in our schools. Please use your Jim Crow Task Force with its Spanish Inquisition tactics and taxpayer-funded resources to self-investigate rather than harass and intimidate teachers. The parties involved are Olivia Oxendine and Catherine Truitt, working to promote a radical right agenda in public schools.
Students are being indoctrinated into believing that there is no such thing as systematic racism that has been foisted upon people of color due in part to red lining, pay gaps, education gaps through tracts, or discrimetory policing and selective law enforcement.
Instead, they are forced to sit through countless lecture focusing on Euro-centric and sanitized history rather than presenting facts agreed upon by actual historians rather than two bit politicians with an agenda and a lack of candor when discussing civics, history or society
Hello - I am disheartened by this blatantly political attempt to foment further partisanship by the lieutenant governor. By promoting this anti-teacher task force, the lieutenant governor is exhibiting his own bias and discrimination regarding education: it’s clear he is interested in indicting hard-working teachers based on hearsay, ignorance and innuendo.
Plus the lieutenant governor’s outright dismissal of proposed social studies standards demonstrates that he is more interested in promoting his partisan politics than properly educating North Carolina’s students.
Therefore I respectfully ask that the F.A.C.T.S task force investigate the lieutenant governor and his role in promoting political partisanship in education. However I would much prefer that the F.A.C.T.S task force spend their time spotlighting teachers who are tirelessly working to go above and beyond to educate their students. There are many, many teachers doing this despite what the lieutenant governor believes.
Since you're using this form to find potential donors & voters, but also to find sensational stories that you can point to as extreme examples of a problem that doesn't exist, I decided to waste your time by reminding you that this racist task force emerged due to Mark Robinson's precious feelings being hurt when a child couldn't write about him for a school report. You are working on a task force because a grown man had his ego hurt by a child not being able to write about him. You must be so proud of yourself. Keep fishing. Maybe one day, you'll find that example from this form of someone doing something so just, fair, liberal, socialist (or whatever it is you're looking for) that you can have a follow-up news conference about it to emphasize your point. Or maybe continuing to talk about Tupac will end up actually working for you. Good luck finding indoctrination (aka, antiracist teaching).
I teach my students that calling other people "slaves" is wrong. I know that this is my opinion and your big bad Jim Crow Task Force is gonna waste taxpayer dollars coming after me now because I am not spewing hate like your racist leader, Mark Robinson, who said this: "half of black Democrats don't realize they are slaves and don't know who their masters are. The other half don't care." https://www.wral.com/on-facebook-nc-s-republican-candidate-for-lieutenant-governor-lashes-out-insults/19304590/
Since you align yourself with a man who calls people who disagree with him "slaves," it appears that you only want teachers to teach the Mark Robinson curriculum, which is hate, bigotry, and racism. Oh, and to blame all of the world's problems on socialism (not to mention fail to use apostrophes correctly). Please advise: exactly which students should we "hate" and which parents should we call "slaves?" A man with the moral authority of Mark Robinson should be able to clarify that since he believes he is capable of determining what is right and wrong to share in classrooms.
Since you refuse to name the members of your Racist Task Klan and prefer to cowardly hide behind Mark Robinson’s website and this re-election mailing list disguised as a POC reporting tool, I will leave my name anonymous, too.
I “indoctrinated” my kids by telling them not to call people insulting names. I know that Mark Robinson loves to bully and insult people by calling them Kamala the Chameleon and Barbed Wire Joe, but I just prefer to indoctrinate my kids into treating people with a little more kindness. I know that doesn’t sit well with racist, radical Republicans who are threatened by 9 year olds learning about our nation’s history, but I just prefer to teach kids to avoid sinking to such pathetic tactics as the ones your fearless leader likes to employ. I also know that you prefer that we only teach reading, writing, math, science, and social studies (well, social studies that paints America as the best country on Earth that never did anything bad), but I managed to squeeze in some time to indoctrinate my students about kindness. Please come after me and my teaching license for this blatant act of indoctrination.
As a North Carolina public school teacher, this form sickens me. What it proves, once again, is that our state legislature does not care about our public schools. It does not care about teachers like me that are trying to teach our state’s children--and by our state’s children, I mean ALL children--something that only non-charter public schools can truly offer. The sad truth is, I will be leaving teaching after next year primarily because of how this legislative body treats my profession. I am someone with a Masters degree from one of the top universities in the nation. I stay up late grading assignments and creating lesson plans, and I make $40,000 a year. Enough is enough. I love my kids, but I also like having my own life and decent pay to live it. It’s just not worth it anymore.
Stop disrespecting and distrusting teachers. Treat us like the professionals we are and pay us what we’re worth. Then maybe people like me would stick around. Do you not understand that you’re making teaching in NC even more of an abysmal prospect for college graduates than it already is with these kinds of offensive measures? How dare you call me and teachers like me indoctrinators--teachers who are trying to teach about actual history, actual science, and actual truth. Teachers who would never, *ever* tell a student what to think or do, but who understand that their job is to unlock students’ potential to make up their own minds through sound reasoning, reflection and self-awareness.
Soon, there’s going to be no one left that's willing to take abuse and belittlement from you or your colleagues. The children of North Carolina will be the ones that take the hit when teachers skilled in their content and research-based pedagogy start leaving in droves. And if that sounds unlikely to you, you can mark my words that it will happen if you continue to maintain these kinds of punitive, unjust, absurd policies. And the future of our state will be endangered because of you.
There’s still time to use your power for good. Taking down this form would be a start.
How disappointing. Is this actually an issue in schools, rather than an issue to pander to a particular constituency? By indoctrination, do you mean the actual teaching of facts and real history that happened? Said another way, is it indoctrination if it goes against one’s personal belief systems?
We can’t cancel or erase the facts just because we don’t like them.
F.A.C.T.: History repeats itself and one of the best ways to avoid repeating past mistakes is to learn from them and the only way to learn from them is to learn about them.
F.A.C.T.: We, as a country, have an abysmal history when it comes to dehumanizing others who don’t conform to the white anglo-saxon ideal. Pretending the things we’ve done to others never happened doesn’t mean they never happened.
Forms like this, as well as HB 755, serve to do nothing but degrade, demean and demoralize teachers who work incredibly hard, only to be vilified by people with political motivations. A year ago, teachers were hailed as heroes as they quickly pivoted to begin teaching remotely at the beginning of the pandemic. Within a few months, the hero talk gave way to “those greedy, indoctrinating teachers” talk. One treats teachers as professionals, the other is unfair and untrue. You have the power to help treat educators in the professional manner they have earned the right to be treated in.
Our state is being misled and misinformed by Mark Robinson’s attempts to indoctrinate the citizens of NC with this nonsense. Our tax dollars pay his salary, and he is choosing to wage war on the amazing school teachers who bend over backwards trying to provide the best quality education under horrific conditions. If he was a smart man, or even half way decent of a man, he would invest time into finding out what teachers need and then providing it. He’s a joke, and people in our county are ready to get rid of him.
Today, I indoctrinated my kids by teaching them to accept a set of beliefs about how it is not okay to make fun of someone's food, particularly if it is part of their cultural or ethnic heritage. I know that you prefer that we don't even discuss or teach about race or ethnicity since it is all divisive in your fragile minds, which is why I am reporting this blatant example of indoctrination so that you can waste time and money investigating it. Here's the resource, just in case you're interesting in a good old fashioned book burning or the censoring of free speech or your group's big government overreach into the classroom:
It indoctrinates kids into thinking it's bad for them to make fun of the food people eat and that we should respect other cultures and other people's choices. Feel free to call this "Critical Race Theory" since everything about race is Critical Race Theory in your mind, and all of it is therefore bad. I'm sure the white supremacists who support your racist task force will be happy to have you go after this resource.
Have you thought about perhaps having an "Endorsed by the F.A.C.T.S. Task Force" sticker to put on any of the whitewashed, race-neutral, non-indoctrinating books by white authors that you actually will allow people to use? That should keep your task force busy and preoccupied. It will also let me know which books NOT to use in my classroom. Happy fishing! I hope you're finding some sensationalized stories to use as examples of indoctrination that you can use for your fear-mongering campaign. Enjoy your racist witch hunt.
Dear Members of the Anti-Indoctrination Clown Show (and your racist leader, Mark Robinson): I just want to alert you anonymous racist task force members of another indoctrination attempt in the classroom. I told kids that Columbus didn't discover America because indigenous people already lived there. I'm assuming that the members of this racist task force believe Native Americans are savage and uncultured, much like your colleage, Rick Santorum, who said nothing was here before Columbus got here, and that Native American's don't have culture. I also assume that your clown show ring-leader Mark Robinson has some choice, racist things to say about Native Americans given the fact that he has awful, bigoted things to say about every non-white race. Since your task force is so afraid of 9 year olds learning about our actual history, I figured I'd share that I'm one of the many teachers you can try to write a sensationalized news story about so you can get enough votes to keep you in office for years to come. There are enough uneducated, racist white supremacists who believe the jargon you are spitting out, and who are attacking a 1970s sociological theory nobody is even teaching in k-12 schools (Critical Race Theory) that you will surely be able to leverage racism into votes. Congratulates on sinking so low to stay in office.
This description has been censored to remove any words that your w**t* sup*****y task force objects to seeing or hearing in K-12 schools.
I am aware of teachers talking about r*c* and rac*is* in schools. This goes against my beliefs as a Christian and what is taught in the Bible. I know that DPI is currently a Christian organization under the helm of grandmaster Truitt, blessed be her name. We also honor Mark Robinson, for teaching a new generation of rac**** and big*** how to be new-rac*is**. The new-rac**m he preaches and teaches makes it safe to be a rac*st conservative again.
We also support the ban on C*T, even thought we don't know what it is and it isn't being taught in schools. A hallmark foundation of the new Trumpist conservative movement is to attack anything too difficult for us to comprehend if we can use it as a scapegoat to mobilize the base.
Thank you for censoring our teachers. We need bodycams and conservative classroom observers in every classroom. We need to be able to live stream and punish teachers who teach democratic ideas and honor teachers who teach the new conservative ideals of whi** suprema**, censorship, scapegoating, lies, and unconditional support of Tucker Carlson.
I saw a teacher who had a copy of Ibram Kendi's book: How to Be an Antiracist, in her classroom on her personal bookshelf. I know that Phil Berger says that Ibram Kendi once criticized capitalism and the senate leader then said that the fact that a school system in NC paid to have him speak, that means there is CRT in the classrooms. Since you and your unnamed anti-CRT clique meet in your little treehouse to stop CRT, please advise on what actions I should take. If you are thinking a good old-fashioned book burning, please indicate which form of charcoal or kindling to use to burn Ibram Kendi's book. Please also indicate what other titles we should burn. Like you, I don't think for myself, so please tell me if we do or don't support Dr. Seuss anymore. I need bigots like Mark Robinson to tell me what to believe. If he says burn it, I will. I imagine he wants us to shoot the books with our assault rifles first, then burn them. Please advise.
Recently your boss, the lieutenant governor, issued a statement denouncing Ibram X. Kendi’s recent webinar with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. Mr. Robinson’s statement made many presumptions and offered thoughts based on those presumptions which were wrong. It seems as if the Lt. Governor has a rather weak understanding of what Critical Race Theory really is, and he wrongfully presumes school districts across the state are pushing to teach it. He also presumed Professor Kendi spoke extensively about CRT in his talk, this was also wrong.
It needs to be documented that public officials like our Lt. Governor plus the leader of the NC Senate are pushing false narratives about education and our schools. This needs to stop. These comments are crafted solely to get the attention of your supporters, they do not educate or further any debate about race relations.
I request that Mr. Robinson stopped trying to push false narratives and condemning people, and school districts, before he has all the facts. The FACTS group needs to fully examine Mr. Robinson’s statements regarding education and let the public know that he is trying to indoctrinate NC citizens to follow his beliefs and not facts.
I have strong concerns about the efforts of certain leaders to limit the knowledge of our children. In the introduction to this form, it states the purpose is to hold public schools accountable “… by exposing indoctrination in the classroom and ensuring that our students are taught how to think - not what to think.” How can our students be taught HOW to think when people/leaders within our state are attempting to limit the facts that they need in order to use critical thinking skills and draw conclusions? It also speaks that its purpose is “To assist in holding local and county-level education officials accountable for what occurs in their schools.” Who is holding our state leaders accountable for attempting to destroy both our true history and our public education system? Under “what to submit” it states, “Examples of students being subjected to indoctrination according to a political agenda or ideology, whether through assigned work, teacher comments, or a hostile classroom environment.” I am reporting you and much of our Republican leadership for attempting to subject our students to indoctrination due to your political agenda. Indoctrination occurs through the use of Memory Laws where leaders attempt to control the masses by not allowing them to know/learn the actual and complete truth, such as the history of white supremacy and racism in our country. Sound familiar? If parents want their children to only learn what makes them comfortable, they have the option to find a private school that only teaches those tenets. Public schools are for the public, and as such, all of our children and their cultures should be reflected in the curriculum. I find it ironic that this “Taskforce” uses F.A.C.T.S. as its acronym. There is nothing about its underlying goal that deals in facts. As a tax paying citizen and voter who believes in actual FACTS, democracy, critical thinking, and making sure our children are not being indoctrinated by those actually supporting indoctrination, I expect you to reflect and look into what you are doing
Dear White Folks Intent on Censoring Teachers of Color and Canceling History:
I indoctrinated my 5th graders this year when I taught the Revolutionary War. I taught the American History, and according to small-minded racists like the ones on this Witch Hunt Pro-Censorship Task Force, teaching history is Critical Race Theory. I included words like "Black" and "Freedom" as I talked about our nation's founding. Also, as a teacher of color in a public school (something you folks want to get rid of and privatize anyway), that must mean I did everything wrong. I did not live up to your white standards and I taught curiosity, not censorship, which seems to be the ideal you appreciate more than inquiry and inquisitiveness. Thanks so your work on this racist task force and for reminding us why we need to work harder in public schools to prevent people from growing up and becoming as biased, racist, and gullible as yourselves. I want my students to learn to actually think about things, rather than doing what you all do by blindly believing anti-history nonsense by political operatives
Indoctrination has been a hot topic in North Carolina education policy discussions lately.
Last month the NC House of Representatives passed a law entitled “An Act to Ensure Academic Transparency” which would require teachers to post their lesson plans and details about all instructional materials online for public review.
In defense of their support for the new legislation, which passed almost entirely along partisan lines, some Republican legislators cited the need to prevent indoctrination of North Carolina students.
Iredell County Representative Jeffrey McNeely said, “Hopefully we’re just gonna teach the kids. We’re not gonna try to indoctrinate ’em or teach ’em in a certain way to make ’em believe something other than the facts.”
At its meeting today, the North Carolina State Board of Education reviewed glossaries and unpacking documents related to new state social studies standards which will be implemented in school year 2021-22. (Unpacking documents are overarching documents intended to help teachers understand how the standards should be taught).
During the discussion, board member Amy White expressed her view that the standards unpacking documents needed to ensure North Carolina teachers are teaching their students that America is a great nation.
Audio is fairly poor quality, so I’ve included a transcript below it.
One final question. Several months ago in our discussion about standards, I made a comment from the table about the foundation of our social studies curriculum being anchored in the thought and the premise that America is a great nation. And is there any place for inclusion in that foundation as a preamble to all of these documents together that we are educating our students about our history both positive and negative but that through our challenges through sacrifices through our triumphs that America is a nation today that we should be proud of and blessed to live in?
In an effort to help our students better understand about their role as future leaders in this nation. And I really think that a document or a statement underlining that fact that our teachers teaching in the public schools should be making every effort to help our students understand our history as it impacts the socioeconomics, diversity, economic development and future development of this country. It’s important that we undergird that with the idea that we live in a tremendously prosperous land.
Whether or not you see America as a great nation depends on how you and your ancestors have experienced life in the United States.
But the larger point here is that social studies classes should not be a place where students come to learn that their country is great. It should be a place where they can learn the truth about their own history and the history of others and then develop their own views based on the facts.
I trust that Representative McNeely will be reaching out to Ms. White in order to express his disapproval.
One of the saddest parts of the year-long debate over Mecklenburg County’s plan to withhold funding from Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools has been the dramatic change in philosophy it represents for two former school board members who now serve on the Board of County Commissioners.
Board Chair George Dunlap served on the Charlotte Mecklenburg Board of Education representing District 3 from 1995 to 2008, and Commissioner Vilma Leake was the Board of Education District 2 representative from 1997 to 2008.
Over the past year, both have been enthusiastic supporters of plans to hold back education funding in a supposed attempt to address the achievement gap. Leake was first to suggest the approach at the 2020 Budget Straw Vote session.
But archived Charlotte Mecklenburg Board of Education meeting minutes show that, while in their former roles, both Dunlap and Leake understood the vital importance of local funding for improving student outcomes and were frustrated when Mecklenburg County failed to provide adequate resources at the time.
At a September 2004 meeting, the Charlotte Mecklenburg Board of Education heard a recommendation from Superintendent James Pughsley to approve the 2004-05 CMS budget.
In his comments, Pughsley expressed concern that local funding had not kept pace with the school district’s growth, explaining that the lack of county funding would mean cuts that would “have an impact on teaching and learning.”
In the discussion that followed Superintendent Pughsley’s presentation, Board member George Dunlap noted that insufficient county funds would harm efforts to improve student achievement and said voters should hold commissioners accountable for their lack of support for the school district:
Mr. Dunlap reported that the budget that has been presented is what Dr. Pughsley believes best suits the needs of the children in the community and he is the one who will be held accountable. To move dollars here or there will not help him achieve his goals. It should be unquestionable what you do with a budget that is millions and millions of dollars less than what you need to achieve the things you had hoped to achieve. Mr. Dunlap reported that Dr. Pughsley had proposed initiatives to improve students who are low performing and, as a result of the budget cuts, some of those would not be realized. He stated it is very important for the public to be aware of this during the election year.
George Dunlap’s take on the budget in 2004 differs sharply with his current approach as Chair of the Board of County Commissioners.
At a May 25, 2021 meeting between Dunlap, County Manager Dena Diorio, Board of Education Chair Elyse Dashew and Superintendent Earnest Winston, Dunlap seemed shocked the district would even imagine that its request from the county might be fully funded:
Dunlap: So, one of the things that was said was that we underfunded CMS to the tune of ninety something million. And so, what that meant was that we underfunded the fifty-six, plus the amount that you asked for that you didn’t get. Which suggests that you are under the impression that whatever you ask for you should get. Now that was released by CMS. Am I correct in that?
Dashew: Ninety-six million. I don’t recall that number. Winston: I think it was eighty, it was eighty-one million. And I think, Chairman Dunlap, what we did, and we went through a very methodical process with our budget that included community input and everything that we requested as part of that budget ask was everything that we thought we needed to appropriately and effectively educate our students. So we didn’t…another way of saying that is that there wasn’t any fluff in that budget. And we requested what we needed to educate kids.
Diorio: But you do it every year. And we never fully fund your request. This is no different than any other year.
Back to the 2004 Board of Education budget discussion.
In her comments at the meeting, Vilma Leake went even further than Dunlap, blasting commissioners for playing politics and suggesting that, if the county was not willing to provide the funding needed to educate at-risk students, perhaps a lawsuit was necessary:
Ms. Leake asked how do you hold Dr. Pughsley and this Board accountable when the County has not provided funds in three years? She asked the County Commissioners to provide the funds to educate our children and not be political in the process because the children are the ones who lose in this process. Ms. Leake expressed a concern for at-risk students not receiving the funds they need to be educated. Ms. Leake encouraged the public to ask the County Commissioners to provide the funds necessary to educate the children. She suggested perhaps CMS or the public could bring a lawsuit against the County to make them provide the funds necessary to educate the children like they did in Guilford County.
Leake’s 2004 comments contrast distinctly with her 2020 move to punish Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools for not adequately educating children.
At last year’s Budget Straw Vote session, Leake was the one to first raise the idea of placing funds in restricted contingency due to low student achievement in order to show the public that she was willing to be tough on the school board:
Dunlap: All right, Commissioner Leake?
Leake: Yes, let me look at, I want to find out how I can take some money from the Charlotte Mecklenburg School Board as it relates to student assignment and educating our children, cause that’s not what they’re doing. The scores are still the same, or less, and they’re not putting teachers appropriately. How and where can I take funds to show the public that we have to say to the school board “You must use this money to educate our children”?
Leake proposed withholding 30% of CMS’s instructional budget, which County Manager Diorio informed her would come to $84 million. Leake then reduced her proposed amount to be withheld from CMS to $30 million.
The motion was tabled when commissioners couldn’t come up with a process that would allow for the release of the money.
One year later it’s been resurrected and nearly doubled to $56 million that will be withheld from the district until CMS officials produce a plan for closing the achievement gap that satisfies commissioners. The Board will meet on Tuesday, June 1 to vote on the fiscal year 2022 budget.
What we could really use right now is the chance to have 2004 George Dunlap and Vilma Leake come and present to the 2021 Board of County Commissioners about the need for the county to provide adequate resources for Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools and to trust our Board of Education and district leadership to thoughtfully engage in the hard work of addressing the achievement gap.
Perhaps they could convince commissioners that when much-needed resources are held over the head of Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools, the children are the ones who lose.
**Credit to Laurel Brooks for unearthing the 2004 CMS minutes, which you can view in their entirety below**
On Tuesday, Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools released the following FAQ to clarify some important issues around Mecklenburg County’s plan to withhold $56 million from the district’s budget for the upcoming school year:
Q: Why doesn’t CMS share its plan to improve academic outcomes?
A: CMS has shared our 2024 strategic plan with the Board of County Commissioners as recently as May 4, 2021. We began implementing this plan in 2018. Our plan addresses outcomes for all students. The Board of Education and CMS staff continue to fine-tune and revise our strategic plan in light of the impact of the pandemic. We look forward to sharing the results of this governance work at the appropriate time.
Q: Weren’t many of these problems pervasive pre-pandemic?
A: Disparities in educational outcomes for black and brown students have existed in Mecklenburg County and across the nation for decades, just as have disparities in housing, economic opportunity/wages and many other areas. There are many underlying reasons for these gaps existing and widening, including factors beyond the control of public schools. Erosions over the past two-plus decades in the successful reforms enacted after the historic Swann decision 50 years ago are among the causes. Further inequities in housing, food insecurity, wage gaps and other factors that impact students in the 128 hours per week when they are not in the care of our schools also must be addressed. The pandemic has magnified all of these factors. The school system cannot be looked upon in a vacuum when other community ills contribute to the difficulties of addressing educational outcomes.
Q: What is the projected enrollment number for next school year and how does this differ from recent enrollment numbers? How does this affect CMS’s per-pupil budget request to the County?
A: Projected student enrollment for CMS for FY2022 is 143,856 which is higher than the actual enrollment for FY2021 at 140,070. It is important to note that while the FY2021 budget was based on a higher projected enrollment than actually materialized, the state held districts harmless at projected funding levels. CMS followed the state’s lead by retaining staff and maintaining planned allocations to schools to avoid disruption to classes. The district also provided additional support and avoided terminating employees in the midst of the pandemic. To date, CMS has continued to employ staff and prevent layoffs, and furloughs. The budget request for additional funding for next year is a prime example of how per pupil funding may increase year-over-year. For example, salary and benefit increases for existing staff will increase the per pupil amount even without any change in enrollment. The request for operating costs for new schools and preventive maintenance for existing facilities is needed regardless of changes in enrollment. The request for additional social and emotional support staffing represents an ongoing need to reduce the ratios of staffing to students to meet the needs of students – now more than ever – but was needed long before the pandemic and is also not impacted by the level of enrollment shifts this past year. Bottom line, the budget is not built on a per pupil basis. Instead, the request is driven by and based on additional funding needs.
Q: County officials say their recommended budget contingency will not impact the classroom. CMS says it will – can you explain?
A: Funding reductions and holdbacks of this magnitude impact the classroom. Period. County funding is used to supplement what we receive in state and other funding sources. Many of the expenses paid with county funds cannot be paid with state funding – even if we had the funds available, which we do not. The recommended allocation completely eliminates the funding in several categories and decimates a few others so operating with this “holdback” of funding as outlined will be extremely problematic. Local funding pays a portion of salaries for principals. For many assistant principals, entire salaries are locally funded. Another example: the county proposal reduces the budget for Finance and Human Resources by about half of the total planned local funding. Hiring and paying teachers, assistant teachers and other school-based staff are critical functions of these areas. Doing this work with significantly fewer staff will impact our classrooms.
Q: CMS says the funding gap is $81 million. The BOCC says they are funding at a higher rate than last year. What’s the reality?
A: With a $24.5 million portion of our total local funding request unfunded and the $56 million held in “restricted contingency,” we must prepare a budget as if our request is underfunded by about $81 million. The recommended county budget allocation to CMS for next year is $526.9 million. This is actually only $2 million more than the prior year. However, the prior year allocation designated $4.1 million as one-time funding (for the system modernization project and preventive maintenance) so the base ongoing amount decreased to $520.8 million. Thus the increase referenced by the county manager as $6.1 million is from that lower base amount. The county manager outlined the recommended allocation for the $6.1 million increase, but that leaves us with $24.5 million in identified needs that remain unfunded – some of which will likely be required to provide locally funded teachers and other staff the same salary and benefit increases mandated by the state and to cover the charter school pass-through cost. As a result, we must cut or downsize programs, put off facility maintenance efforts and delay hiring or reduce staff. We cannot budget for the school year with a deficit, and it is not fiscally sound to consider $56 million in a “restricted contingency” funding as part of our planned spend for the year until it is released from restriction.
Q: Is the BOCC claim that some NC counties don’t receive county funding true?
A: All counties receive some level of funding support from their respective county.
Q: Why does CMS need $551 million of county funding when the district is receiving $500 million in federal COVID relief money?
A: Federal funding must be used in addition to, not in place of, annual state and local funding. The COVID-related federal funding has specific allowable uses that must be directly linked to the prevention of, reduction of or in response to COVID-19. Almost all components of our budget request for county funding are ongoing recurring expenses that existed prior to and will remain after the pandemic subsides. The request does not include expenses incurred due to impacts of the pandemic, as those will be addressed with the COVID relief funding
Q: Can federal dollars identified in the CMS budget request be used to pay for maintenance expenses that CMS has sought from the county?
A: No. Federal funding must be used in addition to, not in place of annual state and local funding. The COVID-related federal funding has specific allowable uses that must be directly linked to the prevention of, reduction of, or in response to COVID-19. During the budget planning process, the list of facility needs was reviewed and items that are related to improving indoor air quality or reducing the spread of COVID-19 were identified to be included within the COVID-related federal funding. Items under the county request are preventive maintenance items that would not be allowable on the COVID related federal funding.
Q: Is CMS requesting double-billing of funds for charter school students?
A: No, the district is not “double billing” for charter students. CMS budgets for staffing, services and materials to support the district’s enrollment and operations of district schools. Then, based on the estimated local per pupil funding anticipated for the next year (using the combined district and charter enrollment to compute the per pupil amount), a budget is calculated for the charter school pass-through payments which is incorporated into the overall district budget.
While we do consider the charter enrollment in our budget development process, we do not include the projected charter enrollment as we determine the necessary staffing and support for our district schools; therefore, we are not “double billing” for the charter enrollment in the budget request. Furthermore, this budgeting exercise is recalculated each budget cycle to ensure we adjust for any shifts in enrollment between our schools and charters from year to year.
Q: If the state adopts a budget increasing salaries for state-funded employees, will county-funded employees receive the same increase under the current county budget recommendation?
A: It is the district’s practice to provide the same salary increase for all employees as mandated by the state for state paid employees. This was a part of our budget request from the county. The proposed county funding is not sufficient to cover the anticipated salary and benefit increases so reductions in other areas will be necessary to ensure all of our staff receive any salary increases mandated by the state that they so deserve.
Q: Does the county proposal reduce the CMS budget allocation from the county?
A: The holdback of funding and uncertainty of when it will be released creates a situation for the district to plan a budget that is without that funding. That is the most fiscally responsible action to take in this circumstance.
Q: What about the “unbudgeted” $320 million in federal revenue in CMS’s proposed budget for FY2022? Why has no spending plan been identified for these funds?
A: During the months of budget development work, we were not aware of the American Rescue Plan funding amount and only added an estimate just prior to presenting the budget – even before the state had given us an indication of our allocation. We did this in the spirit of transparency to ensure the community was aware that we anticipated having access to these COVID relief funds over the next few school years. We also discussed at length our intent to prepare a budget using a wide range of stakeholder input and thoughtful review of needs. Additional but yet-to-be-identified factors likely must be addressed in the continued response to COVID-19, and for that reason federal authorities allow districts until 2024 to use the most recent COVID-related funding. The board of education and the community will be informed once this budget plan is finalized and funding is made available for us to use for COVID-related expenses.
Q: Is CMS’s policy IKE still in effect?
A: Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education Policy IKE governs student Promotion, Retention, and Acceleration and is in effect. All components of policy IKE are still in effect. House Bill 82, which is the basis for the Camp CMS summer learning and enrichment program, prohibits the retention of kindergarten students. Students in other grades who are retained at the conclusion of the 2020-2021 and successfully complete Camp CMS must have their retention reviewed to determine if it is still warranted.
Q: Is CMS providing individual plans to support all students who qualify for MTSS interventions?
A: The individual plan requirements previously in place were based on a state statute from 2008. That statute has been updated numerous times since then and there is no current requirement that each student be provided such a plan.
Q: Mecklenburg County officials claim that CMS operates 166 schools and CMS says it operates 176 schools. What is the accurate number?
A: CMS operates 176 schools. The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction website supports this fact.
This week the growing beef between Mecklenburg County and Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools took an unexpectedly ugly turn when County Commission Chairman George Dunlap threatened to withdraw county funding for the school district entirely.
The threat came in response to a Board of Education statement that the BOE would “pursue the avenues available to us” if commissioners approve County Manager Dena Diorio’s proposal to withhold $56 million in the FY 2022 budget until CMS provides an acceptable plan for closing the achievement gap.
County funding for CMS constitutes roughly one third of the district’s operating budget and last year came in at $530 million.
Whether it’s $56 million or $530 million, we need to have a real conversation about who is most threatened by talk of withholding funds from Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools.
News accounts and rhetoric by commissioners publicly supporting this approach have primarily framed this conflict as county leadership demanding more accountability from our Board of Education and school district leaders.
But board members and executive administration don’t work in the schools that rely on that funding to do the day to day work of educating and supporting our children. It’s our school building-level educators and students that stand to lose the most if the already insufficient resources we have to work with are reduced even further.
Commissioners who support the idea of withholding CMS funds will probably tell you it’s not punitive. Just this week Commissioner Vilma Leake said “It’s not about taking money from the school district. It’s about making sure that we hold you accountable for why we elected you to educate our children.”
Leake proposed withholding 30% of CMS’s instructional budget, which County Manager Diorio informed her would come to $84m. Leake then reduced her proposed amount to be withheld from CMS to $30m.
The motion was tabled when commissioners couldn’t come up with metrics that would allow for the release of the money. One year later it’s been resurrected and nearly doubled to $56 million.
So the idea of withholding money from CMS pending the district meeting certain conditions was punitive from its inception. Don’t say “How can I take funds?” and then turn around and say “It’s not about taking money.”
Does our school district need to be more intentional and transparent about closing the achievement gap? Yes. Do our leadership bodies need to do a better job at working together in general and, specifically, finding new ways to collaborate on addressing educational inequities? Absolutely.
This is not the way we make either of those things happen.
An incredibly difficult pandemic school year is drawing to a close–one in which students, teachers, administrators, bus drivers, nurses, and all members of our public school families have been stretched to the breaking point again and again.
As we continue this important conversation about the Mecklenburg budget, our county leaders need to avoid the usual platitudes to educators along the lines of “Thank you for everything you do for our children” if they’re going to threaten to take away the resources we depend on to do that work with the very next breath.
A member of the North Carolina House of Representatives held up my teaching as an example of harmful indoctrination of children this week as state legislators met to discuss a new bill which would require teachers to post their lesson plans online for public review.
The K-12 Education Committee approved HB 755, also known as “An Act to Ensure Academic Transparency.” It passed the House by a vote of 66-50 and now moves on to the Senate.
The legislation mandates that all lesson plans, including information about any supporting instructional materials as well as procedures for how an in-person review of lesson materials may be requested, be “prominently displayed” on school websites.
Iredell County Republican Representative Jeffrey McNeely gave the bill two enthusiastic thumbs up, pointing to my teaching as an example of the hidden indoctrination that will be exposed if the bill is passed into law:
We tend to come to teach our kids with everything with a twist to it. And I think transparency is one of the most important things we can do, and maybe what we’ve learned from this pandemic, through virtual, some of the parents actually seeing what their children are taught and how they’re taught.
I saw in the Charlotte Observer the other week a English teacher was complaining because he had to do remote learning and in-person learning at the same time and it caused him to shorten his English class on environmental pollution.
What you think about that?
So I think this putting out to me this will help the parents going to the next grade be able to look and see what that teacher taught the year before, and hopefully we’re just gonna teach the kids, we’re not gonna try to indoctrinate ’em or teach ’em in a certain way to make ’em believe something other than the facts, the knowledge, the ability to write the ability to read.
McNeely is referring to an editorial I published in the Charlotte Observer last week about my experiences with hybrid teaching during the COVID 19 pandemic. In the article I discussed being in the middle of a lesson with students both in person and on Zoom when the fire alarm rang, forcing me to prematurely end class for my remote students in the middle of an important conversation.
The Iredell County legislator ignored the overall point I was making about the challenges the pandemic has wrought for teachers and students, directing his tunnel vision at my opening words: “Not long ago I was leading a discussion about environmental pollution with my 7th grade English class…”
For McNeely, this line, which I “prominently displayed” in the state’s three largest newspapers, exposes a sinister plot to deviate from state standards in support of the leftist agenda. Why else would an English teacher be discussing environmental pollution with students, if not “to make ’em believe something other than the facts, the knowledge, the ability to write the ability to read”?
I teach 7th grade English Language Arts in Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools. We use EL Education’s Language Arts curriculum, which is organized into modules that last several weeks. (The curriculum is open source, so materials are prominently displayed here.)
While working toward mastering state ELA standards, this year my students have studied the Lost Children of Sudan and the Harlem Renaissance, and right now we’re learning about plastic pollution. Through our current module, Mecklenburg County’s 7th grade students have gained an understanding of how plastic has become an integral part of our lives over the years but also how much of it makes its way into the world’s oceans as microplastics, harming wildlife and posing a threat to humans as well.
Not having a background in education, Representative McNeely may not be aware that teaching students to read and write involves selecting topics for them to read and write about.
This process allows teachers to create a broad and engaging educational experience for students and enables us to integrate instruction across subject areas so that our students see connections in class content between my English class, for example, and their social studies, science, and math classes. It’s not a leftist plot, it’s how school is supposed to work.
This drum beating over indoctrination of students is getting completely absurd.
The vast majority of the public trusts teachers to do their jobs and understands that we already have way too much on our plates without adding the enormous burden of posting everything we do in class online for the pleasure of Representative McNeely and the fringe handful of his constituents who are convinced they’re fighting an end of days culture war.
McNeely and his misguided colleagues need to put down their pitchforks and focus on doing what they were elected to do: creating policies which will actually improve the lives of North Carolinians.
Not long ago I was leading a discussion about environmental pollution with my 7th grade English class when the fire alarm rang. Fire alarms are a regular occurrence in schools, but this time I happened to have half my class present in the room and the other half attending on Zoom. With no idea whether it was a drill or a real fire, I was forced to tell my remote students class was ending, quickly shut down my laptop and lead my in-person students out to safety in the parking lot.
In a school year where unexpected challenges have become commonplace, this SNAFU didn’t seem to faze students. But as their teacher it struck me as a vivid example of the limitations of the hybrid model.
Hybrid teaching has been absolutely necessary this year. The COVID pandemic has killed almost 600,000 Americans and it’s still not over. It has been crucial to provide families with a remote option so they can make the right decisions for their own health and safety, and conducting business in survival mode has meant that public schools have not had the time or resources to create high quality virtual-only alternatives.
The result has been teachers doing the best they can to teach both online and in-person students at the same time. This approach has had definite drawbacks. Students who are learning from home are often not getting the individual attention they need, and those in the classroom are still spending way too much time staring at screens. With the added chaos of regular technology challenges, it has been far too easy for unengaged students to slip through the cracks despite the valiant efforts of their teachers to hold it all together. And the time and energy required to teach two different ways at once has many educators on the edge of burnout.
Too often our practice as a society is to put more and more on the plates of classroom teachers without sufficient attention to how our actions are impacting staff morale or the quality of instruction. As this school year draws to a close, it’s time to talk about how we will handle remote learning going forward to ensure that it’s a good experience for all stakeholders.
Necessity is the mother of invention, and the innovation this health crisis has required has revealed things about all of us that we didn’t previously know. Virtual learning has worked very well for some. Certain teachers have developed amazing online teaching skills, and some students have flourished with the added responsibility and independence that it takes for successful learning from home. Having had a year to watch things play out, public school parents in many North Carolina counties are calling for an expansion of remote alternatives beyond the pandemic.
Durham Public Schools has already announced the launch of a new all-remote academy for the 2021-22 school year. Wake County is in the planning phase of a similar move. For its part, Charlotte-Mecklenburg is getting ready to survey parents to gauge interest. Legislation has been filed in both the North Carolina House and Senate which could also impact how virtual schools operate in the fall, so there are quite a few balls still in the air. All of which will cost money. Lawmakers should be prepared to help districts pay.
As our decision makers wrestle with how to chart the right path forward for virtual learning, the starting point must be acknowledging that hybrid learning is a “break in case of emergency” only option. Remote learning should require a long term commitment by families, and virtual schools need to be staffed by teachers who are skilled at that work and are able to focus on it exclusively.
Good teaching requires continual reflection on what’s working and what isn’t in an effort to continually improve. Here’s hoping that approach shapes policy decisions on virtual schools as well.
When Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump for the presidency in 2020, many of our nation’s pandemic-weary educators had reason for optimism. The change in leadership meant an exit for the spectacularly unpopular Betsy DeVos, a Secretary of Education whose lack of ed credentials and support for privatization had galled public school teachers for four years. It meant we’d have a real teacher as First Lady in Dr. Jill Biden, someone with first-hand knowledge of the plight of educators who could hopefully encourage President Biden to live up to his lofty campaign promises about education.
One such promise had to do with standardized testing.
In December 2019, at an MSNBC public education forum for Democratic presidential hopefuls, Biden was asked if he would commit to ending standardized testing in public schools. His answer was emphatic and clear:
“Yes. You are preaching to the choir. Teaching to a test underestimates and discounts the things that are most important for students to know.”
One month into Biden’s tenure as president, that educator optimism took a big hit recently when the Department of Education released a memo clarifying its position on standardized testing for spring 2021, saying the department would not consider “blanket waivers of assessments.”
As Biden pick for Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona has not yet been confirmed, the memo was written by Acting Assistant Education Secretary Ian Rosenblum. Rosenblum has been a strong supporter of the use of standardized tests and a vocal critic of those who opt out of such tests in his role as Executive Director of education reform nonprofit The Education Trust–New York.
The Department of Education memo explains that standardized testing is necessary at this moment because “it is urgent to understand the impact of COVID-19 on learning.” At the same time, the DOE acknowledges that “the pandemic requires significant flexibility for the 2020-2021 school year,” and suggests that remote administration of tests is one approach for districts to consider.
As a teacher who has been teaching online in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools for the last year, I find it hard to believe that the Department of Education can talk about the importance of accurately measuring the impact of the pandemic on learning and suggest remote administration of standardized tests with the same breath–and keep a straight face while doing it.
Questions about the general legitimacy of this form of assessment for measuring student learning aside, the results I’ve seen from formative standardized tests administered online this school year as a classroom teacher have been all over the place.
Some students are repeatedly flagged for “Rapid Guessing” by the testing software, indicating they aren’t spending enough time on each test item to actually be reading the questions and answer choices. Those students’ results are generally significantly lower than I know their abilities to be from my own classroom level assessment data. Other scores are so high and out of line with results from previous years that they raise questions about who might actually be taking the test on the other end.
As a result, much of the test data is highly suspect and has to be taken with a huge grain of salt when making instructional decisions.
The Department of Education memo argues that standardized testing during the pandemic is also essential for equity purposes, saying the data will help us to “be prepared to address the educational inequities that have been exacerbated by the pandemic, including by using student learning data to enable states, school districts, and schools to target resources and supports to the students with the greatest needs.”
This virus has disproportionately impacted people of color, and that fact has led, unsurprisingly, to students of color choosing remote instruction in higher numbers. Given the alarming lack of validity of test data when assessments are administered at home, it makes zero sense to proceed with remote administration out of an urgent need for accurate data.
That’s not to say that students should all have to come to the physical school building to take standardized tests. In the absence of guidance from the Trump administration, North Carolina schools required students to report to buildings to take required first semester End of Course tests–even if their families had opted for full remote out of health concerns. The Department of Education memo acknowledges that’s not the right approach to take, saying, “We do not believe that if there are places where students are unable to attend school safely in person because of the pandemic that they should be brought into school buildings for the sole purpose of taking a test.”
In a district like Charlotte Mecklenburg, where more than 40% of students are attending school remotely due to the ongoing high rates of community COVID spread, that doesn’t leave schools with any good options for testing in school year 2020-2021.
We all agree that understanding where our children are academically and devising a plan to meet their needs is critical. That’s what our public schools do every day, pandemic or no pandemic. Forcing students to take standardized tests in the middle of a public health crisis will not enable us to do that work better. Such an exercise would only exponentially increase the stress that students and staff already face in order to generate data that is largely unusable.
If the federal government is truly interested in finding out what resources and supports public schools need at this moment, why don’t they try asking us? We’d be more than happy to tell them.