New Education “Non-Profit” Brings Jeb! To Raleigh

Another day, another “education non-profit” is born. This time it’s in North Carolina’s own backyard and appears to involve NC State Superintendent Mark Johnson and featuring an appearance by Jeb!

JebAt the end of June Grow Great NC,  the latest in the “education non-profit” Potemkin village, kicked off its official start in Raleigh by importing former Florida Governor and failed Presidential Candidate Jeb Bush.

I’ll get to Grow Great NC in more detail later but first, yes, this new group brought in Common Core pushing Jeb ‘Why can’t our kids be more like kids in China‘ Bush.

The same Jeb! who mocked parents upset over Common Core and said that ‘you have to have a backbone’ to persuade people about Common Core, then displayed his mighty backbone by turning around and backpedaling.

Back To The Grow Great NC Event

So, this event – at least to me – looked more like a fundraiser than anything else.

Thanks to Education NC, we can see some of what was said.

Those of us who have fought Common Core for the last 8 years who watched this clip will likely have flipped Jeb! the bird quite a bit – especially when he started rambling about ‘personalized learning’; an idea that meshes with Common Core like oil meshes with water.

According to Education NC’s report, there was some gushing over Jeb!

“There are 50 state Senate presidents in the country,” Bush said to Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, after the senator introduced him. “I can’t think of one who has done more for education reform than you.”

Berger, for his part, said when Republicans came into power, Bush’s example was one that legislative leaders looked to.

“We knew that we had to look to other states, particularly other states that had bridged some of the gaps that we had in North Carolina,” Berger said. “At that time there was no better example in the United States than the state of Florida under the leadership of Governor Jeb Bush.”

If by reform, Berger means school choice, then yes, I’d agree. If he means anything beyond that, then I’d have disagree.

Read to Achieve is a Jeb! reform. It’s still not working out like it should, but to be fair that is in part to the way former Superintendent Atkinson put it into play with the added bonus of Common Core being implemented. She did a hatchet job on implementing Read to Achieve, which then required the legislature to alter the program to make it run better.

The A-F grading is also not really working out either.  The A-F system is set up whereby 80% of a school letter grade reflects student achievement on standardized tests on a single testing day and the remaining 20% is the students’ progress on those tests over time.

The A-F system is not a full picture of any given school because it does not fully take into consideration the obstacles that schools with a moderate or high number of poor students regularly encounter.  By the same token, this rating does rapidly zero in on schools in that situation by assigning D and F grades but does nothing to address the poverty gap in achievement.

Just this past week, it was reported that one of the schools in Wake County was dropping the A-F system altogether. The school says the system does not provide enough information on how the students are progressing and they want to end discouragement of students who are receiving low marks.

A question was asked of Jeb! about the A-F system by Rep. Craig Horn. Education NC’s report included that back and forth:

When taking questions from the audience, Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union, asked Bush about Florida’s school performance grades. In North Carolina, the grades are made up of a ratio that is weighted in favor of student achievement. Eighty percent of the score comes from that factor while only 20 percent comes from student growth. Horn was interested, in particular, in Bush’s opinion of the importance of these two factors.

“That is a nerdy education policy question if I’ve ever heard one,” Bush said when Horn asked his question.

He said the goal of schools is to get students career-and-college-ready, which is what achievement is meant to represent. Bush acknowledged, however, that along the way to getting all students career-and-college-ready, a mix of factors are important in school achievement scores. Florida’s scores have something closer to a 50/50 split between growth and achievement, he said.

So then, it’s not really working in Florida either? If the goal is to make kids ‘career and college ready’ then it’s utterly failing as evidenced by the last six years of EOG and NAEP scores in North Carolina.

In 2015, NAEP scores declined nationwide in all but one category.  North Carolina was no exception and more kids in NC were retained for “poor reading” proficiency despite the state adding another level to the passing portion of the grading scale to hide the failure.

In 2016, only 46.7% of all grade 3-8 NC students were ‘career and college ready’.

The NC Department of Public Instruction (NC DPI) reported that the 2016-17 “Performance Composite Percent College/Career Ready” rate for students in all grades statewide was only a few points higher at 49.1%.

Below is a chart from that report. These results are what NC DPI says is “an upward trend” in Career and College Readiness.  In reality, this is called barely moving the needle.
CCR Levels 2016-17

That same school year (2016-17) the statewide student grade level proficiency rate was only 56.3%.

The following year, in 2017, the NAEP scores for NC students in math had a ‘statistically significant drop’. In reading from 2015 to 2017, 4th graders jumped up 2 points but NAEP proficiency only bumped up one point from 38% to 39% – both of those are appalling numbers after 6 years of Common Core.

The Latest Resident of the Education Non-Profit Potemkin Village

Grow Great NC has zero information about who they are, who runs it, what its non-profit status is or where the money goes anywhere on the website. The site is anonymously registered as well.

We do know a little about it from the report by Education NC though.

The discussion didn’t touch much on Grow Great NC, Inc. Jonathan Felts, who has served as a volunteer spokesperson for Johnson, elaborated on the organization, saying it has no full-time staff as of yet and is funded by voluntary contributions and by committees, organizations, and corporations.

Felts formerly worked as a partner and senior strategist at The Results Company, a Raleigh public affairs firm. He now works for The Indie Group NC, which doesn’t have a website yet. Felts said he is a consultant with Grow Great and described its mission as providing information about education reform in the state.

So Superintendent Johnson’s “volunteer” spokesman is allegedly the one orchestrating things right now in public for Grow Great NC.  Ok – So who is doing the behind the scenes work?

The Secretary of State website provided some more details. There are two entries there, one for Grow Great NC Inc. which is a 501(c)4 and one for Grow Great NC Foundation, Inc. which is a 501(c)3.

As a 501(c)4, Grow Great NC Inc. will not have to disclose the names of its donors.

The address and phone number are identical for each entity. The address appears to be a paid mailbox at a UPS store in Cameron Village.

Both entities list the contact person as Shreita Powers, who is a retired former Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools third grade teacher.  Powers is married to David Powers, a former UNC Board of Governors member.

Both entities also have the same board members. Here is a screenshot from the filing documents listing the board/trustee members:

Board members NC SOS - Grow Great NC

According to the Grow Great NC website, the group will focus on the following:

  • closing the achievement gap through improving student achievement by engaging stakeholders more;
  • studying best public education practices;
  • informing the public on initiatives to improve education;
  • advocating for the elimination of barriers to a quality education;
  • emphasizing the connection between quality K-12 education and the talent pipeline that is critical to strengthening North Carolina’s economic growth opportunities;
    promoting individuals and their ideas that best capture the urgency needed for education reform.

I reached out to Grow Great NC two weeks ago via the contact portal on their page and as of this article have received no reply.

About A.P. Dillon

A.P. Dillon is a reporter currently writing at The North State Journal. She resides in the Triangle area of North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_ Tips:
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