Friday, April 25, 2014

From a teacher: Don't ditch Common Core

Some in the N.C. legislature seem willing to abandon a common sense plan for Common Core base-line academic standards in Tar Heel state public schools. A legislative panel on Thursday proposed dropping Common Core and replacing it with nebulous N.C. standards.

But if lawmakers jettison Common Core, they won't do so without a fight from some accomplished educators who can clearly articulate its value. Mooresville teacher Nancy Gardner is among them. She attended a public hearing in Raleigh on March 20 by that panel, the N.C. General Assembly’s Legislative Research Commission on Common Core State Standards, and she made these remarks: Hopefully, if the draft legislation to ditch Common Core comes to a vote in the short legislative session next month, enough lawmakers will take her words to heart.

"My name is Nancy Gardner..and I teach Senior English students at Mooresville Senior High School. I am a renewed National Board Certified Teacher whose leadership is rooted in my work with the Center for Teaching Quality.

I started teaching in 1974. I am preparing seniors for a very different world now in 2014 - some 40 years later.

Three things my students in 2014 do well:
1. multi task on their devices
2. live in the present
3. take Multiple Choice tests.

Three things students in 2014 struggle with:
1. Problem solving
2. Critical reading and writing
3. Perseverance.

These 3 skills are the heart and soul of the Common Core literacy standards. The standards outline what my seniors need to know and be able to do to be successful in a rapidly changing world. They don’t tell me how to teach or what to teach--that’s my job.

My students can Google facts and figures all day, but if they haven't mastered literacy skills, they won't be ready for the future. It's my job to help students learn to read like detectives and write like private investigators. It's my job to make them read closely, think deeply, and communicate clearly.

The Common Core standards help me focus on the skills these seniors need to be ready for the next part of their lives. Whether my students eventually diagnose what is wrong with my heart or with the engine in my car, they will be critical thinkers and problem solvers. The Common Core helps me do my job, so my students will be able to do theirs."

Well said.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Charlotte minister took on Klansman

My Monday blog post about white supremacist Frazier Glenn Cross, aka F. Glenn Miller, accused in the killings of three people at two Jewish centers in Overland Park, KS, prompted a response from a retired minister who spoke out against the Ku Klux Klansman in 1986. A passionate and illuminating sermon he gave appeared in the Observer on March 9, 1986, about Miller's brand of hatred. It is being reprinted on our Viewpoint page Wednesday. Here are the responses he wrote to me about the blog post on Monday:

"My name is Harold Bales. I am retired and living in Concord, NC. I am writing to thank you for you column about Glenn Miller.
In the 1980’s I was the Senior Minister at First United Methodist Church in uptown Charlotte. To make a long story short, when Glenn Miller entered politics and with some help from [former Editorial Page Editor] Ed Williams and others at the Observer on my research, I gave a sermon
challenging Miller. The Observer ran a long excerpt of the sermon after which followed a long, threatening telephone harangue from Miller.
There were several letters to the editor. And many, many supportive letters to me. However, there were several breakins at our parsonage — 3 while we were at home — by what we believe to have been his followers in the American White Patriots Party. They were clearly just efforts to intimidate us.

We have remained aware of his activities. At one point, Ed Williams, asked me to stop by his office. He showed me a letter Miller had sent to his followers calling on them to kill, among others, “Jew judges” and “NIgger-loving preachers.” Ed said he thought I should be aware of the letter.

I thank you for your coverage of this man. He is a reminder that certain battles are never fully won and require our eternal vigilance.

Harold Bales"

When I asked Rev. Bales if I could reprint his letter, he said yes and included more details on what happened during that time.

"How well my wife and I remember the first time our parsonage was entered after my sermon appeared in the Observer and I received the telephone call from Miller. He had told me repeated for emphasis that neither he nor his followers had been convicted of harming anyone.
His most chilling comment was that he was trying trying to reach the “rednecks and the youth” of North Carolina.” He demanded to have equal time in my pulpit.
Our conversation lasted 45 minutes. It was chilling in its militaristic language and tone.

At about midnight on the Saturday night after his call, my wife and I were in bed but not yet asleep. We were listening for our sons to come home. We hear noises in the hallway outside our bedroom. Then the door opened. In the darkness 5 men dressed in camouflage entered and stood around our bed. We feigned sleep. They stood there a few seconds, then turned and left. Apparently they picked the lock on our door...

What had prompted my sermon was that some teenagers in my congregation had brought me a telephone number that was circulating at their high school. They asked me to call it and tell them what I thought about it.
It was a recorded campaign statement by Miller. It was perhaps the most vile, racist thing I had ever heard. I quoted it in its entirety in my sermon. After I heard the recorded statement, I researched Miller for 30 days...

On two other occasions people came into our parsonage while we were at home. They apparently just wanted us to know that they could.

Again, thank you for shining light on this sordid tale and tragic event. It is the tip of an iceberg."

- Fannie Flono

Monday, April 14, 2014

The KKK, N.C. and the Jewish slayings

If news reports are true, the suspected shooter in the Overland Park, Kansas, killings of three people at two Jewish centers was likely involved in Ku Klux Klan activities in North Carolina at the same time I was coordinating coverage of the Klan here as an assistant state editor of the Observer in the mid 1980s.

The Overland Park shooter has been identified as Frazier Glenn Cross, 73, who is also known as F. Glenn Miller. The suspect, who has been a white supremacist for decades, allegedly yelled a Nazi salute after the shooting, witnesses said.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has documented Miller's activities and said he served as grand dragon of the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, and founded the White Patriot Party in 1980. He was a candidate in the Democratic gubernatorial primary election in North Carolina in 1984 and ran in a Republican primary for a state Senate seat in 1986 - finishing last both times.

In 1985, Observer reporters were detailing an ongoing presence of the Klan in places like Iredell County. I remember driving through the county and seeing a sign that blatantly proclaimed "welcome to Klan country."

It wasn't as disconcerting as it might seem these days. I had already covered Klan parades in Florida as a reporter a few years earlier. And Klan parades were still happening all across the South.

In 1986, the Observer editorial board commended then Gov. Jim Martin for "his decision to establish a state commission on bigotry and hate groups, charged with studying the causes and possible cures of the recent increase in racially motivated violence. The mere existence of the commission represents a statement - a declaration that North Carolina does not welcome the stain of racial bigotry on its conscience and political climate, and that our officials intend to do something about it. We're also glad to see aggressive police work aimed at hate groups - the kind of vigilance that recently led to the arrest of three White Patriot Party sympathizers [including Miller, by the way] ..."

One of the big Klan leaders we covered in the Tar Heel state for a number of years was Virgil Griffin, who established a presence in Iredell County, just a few months after federal investigators began filing charges against members of a rival Klan faction. Griffin, 41 at the time in 1985, of Mount Holly in Gaston County, "is best known as one of the nine Klansmen and Nazis acquitted in the fatal shootings of five communists at a Greensboro housing project in 1979," our reporter Keith Griffin wrote at the time.

Griffin died in 2009. He was still preaching his hate in 2005 when a commission revisited the Greensboro shootings, declaring that "maybe God guided the bullets" that killed those who died.

I don't know if Griffin's and Miller's paths crossed. But if Miller did what he is accused of, he carries the same brand of hatred around.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Miller "has been in the movement nearly his entire life. ... [The center sued him in the 1980s] for operating an illegal paramilitary organization and using intimidation tactics against African Americans.

"After subsequently forming another Klan group, the White Patriot Party, he was found in criminal contempt and sentenced to six months in prison for violating the court settlement. He went underground while his conviction was under appeal but was caught by the FBI with a weapons cache in Missouri. He served three years in federal prison after being indicted on weapons charges and for plotting robberies and the assassination of SPLC founder Morris Dees. As part of a plea bargain, Miller testified against other Klan leaders in a 1988 sedition trial."

"Our research shows that racist killers are hiding among us in plain sight. A forthcoming two-year study by the SPLC will show that nearly 100 people in the last five years have been murdered by active users on another prominent racist website,"

It's sad that this kind of hatred persists.

- Fannie Flono

Thursday, April 10, 2014

6-year-old leaves Hillary speechless

Hillary Clinton is rarely speechless. It took a 6-year-old girl to make her so.

At an event in Portland, Ore., on Tuesday, Zola Demarco asked the leading not-yet-candidate for president, through a moderator: "In 2016, would you prefer to be called Madam President or Mrs. President?"

The audience roared, Clinton laughed, but then would give only a shrug. As she walked off the stage, she gave another exaggerated shrug. She said later that day that she was "thinking" of running for president. KGW TV reports that Zola, for her part, thinks "Mrs." sounds better. You can watch below.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Top dogs in NC Legislature? Tillis and Berger

The North Carolina Center for Public Policy Research released this week its biennial rankings - the 19th - of the effectiveness of N.C. lawmakers. It's no surprise that Republicans, who control the House, Senate and the executive branch, were top dogs in getting legislation passed and holding sway over the political process and their fellow lawmakers.

Who came in first in the House and Senate in effectiveness were pretty predictable. Outgoing House Speaker Thom Tillis of our own great "state" of Mecklenburg and Senate leader Phil Berger of Rockingham. They retain their top dog positions from two years ago.

To understand how a party's strength in numbers can boost strength in effectiveness, you only have to look at where Tillis stood in 2009 and 2007 - he ranked 32nd and 95th. Of course, 2007 was his first legislative term. Berger, whose been in office longer, was 11th and 14th in effectiveness in the Senate during those years.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg had other Republicans among the elite in this effectiveness ranking. Bob Rucho and Ruth Samuelson held the No. 5 spot in the Senate and House respectively. And one Mecklenburg Democrat, newly appointed Mayor Dan Clodfelter, managed to rank 22nd in effectiveness in the Senate, despite not being in the majority party. In 2009 and 2007 when the Democrats ran the pack, he was 5th and 4th respectively in effectiveness.

Effectiveness in these rankings is judged by legislators themselves, registered lobbyists based in North Carolina and who regularly work in the General Assembly and by capital news reporters. Lawmakers' political skills are assessed as well as their knowledge and expertise in specific fields and their committee work, ethics and personal skills.

How did those lawmakers do on carrying out their duties and voting on bills? Ten senators had 100 percent participation on casting votes when they could (not absent or excused). Among them was the powerful appropriations leader Tom Apodoca, R-Henderson. In the House, only two had 100 percent participation - Republican Nelson Dollar of Wake and DemocratW.A. Wilkie of Person. Among the 10 tied for 3rd were Mecklenburgers Democrat Becky Carney and Republican Jacqueline Schaffer.

Those are all interesting viewpoints but I was curious about something else the Center rated - attendance. So who showed up regularly? Six people (two Democrats and four Republicans) were tied for 100 percent attendance in the Senate including our own Mecklenburg GOP Sen. Jeff Tarte, who by the way, was pretty good on effectiveness too. He came in 24th on that, making him the most effective freshman lawmaker. At the bottom of the attendance list at 81.1 percent (absent 16 full days and 4 partial days out of 106) was S.Clark Jenkins, D-Edgecombe.

Twenty-one House members aced attendance, three of them Democrats. GOP Sen. Jacqueline M. Schaffer was the only Mecklenburger who got the 100 percent ribbon. Coming in last was Republican David R. Lewis of Harnett County with 77.4 percent attendance. He missed 7 full days and 17 partial days. Next to last was our own Tricia Cotham, D-Mecklenburg at 78.3 percent. She missed 18 full days and 5 partial days. Of course, she was pregnant for a good bit of the legislative session so she has a good excuse.

How did those top dogs in effectiveness do? Very well. Tillis missed only 1 partial day for a 99.1 percent attendance record. Berger missed four full days and two partial days for a 94.3 percent record.

Turns out most of the lawmakers are diligent about being present at the legislature with all but 18 of the 120 House members present 90 or more percent of the time. All but six of the 49 senators had that record. As Ran Coble, executive director of the nonpartisan center notes, "For part-time legislators - many with other jobs back home and often long drives to Raleigh - this attendance record is a significant accomplishment."

- Fannie Flono

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Why LaWana Mayfield voted no

If there was one slightly sour note at Dan Clodfelter's coronation Monday, it was Charlotte City Council member LaWana Mayfield veering from the feel-good script set out for the new mayor's selection.

The script: Two motions would be made - one nominating Clodfelter and another nominating former council member James Mitchell, who lost to now-ex-mayor Patrick Cannon in the Democratic primary last year. The council's four Mitchell supporters would then get an opportunity to be heard, the Mitchell motion would fail, and the council would unite in a vote behind Clodfelter.

All of which happened, sort of. When the Mitchell motion failed, Mayor pro tem Michael Barnes asked for the yes votes for Clodfelter. Ten council members raised their hands. Barnes, slightly rattled, gave Mayfield some extra time, then called the vote without Mayfield getting a chance to raise her hand in dissent.

So technically, Clodfelter was appointed mayor with a 10-0 vote. Said Mayfield this morning: "It was 10 to 1."

Why? "I have concerns with the process," she said. Specifically, she's unhappy on two counts. First, Clodfelter's selection as mayor comes too late in 2014 for someone to run for his Senate District 37 seat. Instead, Democratic officials in his District will choose somebody to fill out Clodfelter's term, and that appointee will likely take his spot on the November ballot. That person will likely run unopposed in the district, which means that voters won't be selecting their representative for the next 2 1/2 years.

Mayfield, who quickly offered her support for Mitchell after Cannon resigned, also thinks that if Clodfelter wanted to be mayor, he should have raised his hand last year. "If (Clodfelter) had wanted to run for mayor, he had the opportunity to run for mayor," Mayfield says. "That was his choice."

Mayfield has a reputation as someone who stays true to herself with her council votes. "I'm not going to follow along for the sake of appearances," she told me. Nothing wrong with that.

One more awkward moment: After the council meeting, Mayfield ran into Clodfelter and council member Vi Lyles at a Charlotte restaurant.

According to Mayfield, Lyles told her without prompting that she was just popping into the restaurant to pick up dinner on the way home. Mayfield was clearly skeptical. "You're already coordinating a private meeting," she said today about Lyles. "You're already playing games."  

Peter St. Onge

Keith Larson: Charlotte's on a retro roll

We're pleased to welcome WBT radio personality Keith Larson as a contributor the Observer's Opinion pages. Larson will appear in our print edition every other Wednesday, beginning tomorrow. Here's his first column:

It’s been a tough few weeks, Charlotte.

The dark stretch started when the new “Smith Sr.” jersey officially went on sale. The name and number 89 of the playmaking-est Carolina Panther ever were stitched to a purple and black jersey that declared “Baltimore Ravens.”

Then, the Eastland Mall movie studio deal was pronounced dead. Central Avenue would not become the Sunset Strip, and Charlotte would not become Hollywood-on-the-Piedmont. Bert Hesse was not
ready for his close-up.

The Mayor was arrested on bribery charges, and resigned so quickly he never had the chance to slap his federal accusers with his trademark deflection: “Why do you hate Charlotte?” As if the corruption tale wasn’t tawdry enough, Patrick Cannon managed to evoke for himself a new nickname, arising from his previously unrevealed expertise in the devices of feminine hygiene.

Our most recent kick in the gut came last week. Less than a month after the Panthers dumped Steve Smith, Charlotte itself was dumped for Capetown. Showtime producers announced they are moving production for season four of the critically acclaimed, fan-favorite series “Homeland” to South Africa. Oh, how we loved having Claire Danes among us. How we reveled in bragging that the show was shot here, even if Charlotte was merely a body-double for Washington, D.C. It justified our watching the Emmys.

A cruel start to spring, yes, but let not our World Class hearts be troubled. To everything there is a season and Charlotte’s fortunes are about to Turn, Turn, Turn.

In just a few days, baseball returns to the Queen City. Baseball hasn’t called Charlotte home since Bush-41 called the White House home. This fall, “the Buzz will be Back” when at long last and after much pleading the Charlotte Hornets take the court. The NBA hasn’t had the same hold on Charlotte since Muggsy, Kelly, and Dell had a hold on the ball. And, there’s now even a new charismatic preacher on the rise, packing ‘em to the rafters and raking in the bucks. He’s building a big house,
but has he thought about a theme park?

Yes, it’s 1988 again in Charlotte, and the Eighties were great here! All boom and bluster; people coming from all over. I paid my first visit in ’88. I couldn’t wait to see Charlotte Motor Speedway, which, in 1988 was called, Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Charlotte’s on a retro-roll. Every day is “Throw Back Thursday.” The economy’s rebounding. There are more “Shiny New Thingies” in the works from GuvCo and the Uptown Crowd. Heck, we’ll even have a new Mayor at noon Wednesday - let the ground breakings and ribbon cuttings commence.

My advice: enjoy the ride! The Panthers won’t be threatening to leave town for five years.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Charlotte earns another dubious ranking

Back in November, we told you about a study that named Charlotte the nation's least walkable city. Now, further evidence that Charlotte is unusually spread out: A new study finds the Charlotte area to be the fifth most sprawling big metro area in the United States.

The report from Smart Growth America ranks the Charlotte-Gastonia-Rock Hill metropolitan area behind only Atlanta, Nashville, Riverside, Calif., and Warren, Mich. for sprawl among areas with a million people or more. (It also names the Hickory area as the most sprawling in the country overall.) Smart Growth America describes itself as an advocacy organization for sustainable growth.

Researchers used four primary factors to measure sprawl: residential and employment density; neighborhood mix of homes, jobs and services; strength of activity centers and downtowns; and accessibility of the street network.

It analyzed 221 metropolitan areas. The Charlotte area ranked 197th overall. The Hickory area ranked 221st; Greenville, S.C. 214th; Winston-Salem 209th; Fayetteville 203rd; and Columbia 200th. It's important to note that the results would be significantly different if they considered only the city limits of Charlotte or Mecklenburg County. The census-defined Metropolitan Statistical Area has a higher sprawl ranking than just the county or the city.

The researchers argue that sprawl is linked to physical inactivity, obesity, traffic fatalities, poor air quality, lack of social capital and longer commutes. They say that more compact areas generally have greater economic mobility, lower housing and transportation costs, more transportation options, shorter commutes and longer life expectancy.

The study is just one more piece of evidence that Charlotte and the region need to reconsider how they are growing. Development needs to be done in a way that encourages more walking and less driving. It's hard to imagine such a reality in Charlotte, but other places do it. Shannon Binns, executive director of Sustain Charlotte, says, among other things, the zoning code could be reformed to better encourage compact development.

What do you think?

-- Taylor Batten

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

More scandalous allegations involving Charlotte

You might have missed this budding scandal last week, what with the FBI sting of former Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon and his arrest on corruption charges, and the Duke Energy coal ash pond fiasco which is still hanging around in the headlines. But eye-popping, what-were-they-thinking allegations were lodged last week against other officials with connections to Charlotte and the Carolinas.

CertusBank, founded and run by former Bank of America and Wachovia executives - at least one who still lives in Charlotte - was the subject of a scathing expose in American Banker magazine where a group of investors charged “gross mismanagement by senior executives.”

Among the allegations were these expenditures:  “nearly $10 million paid to a consulting firm owned by Certus’ top officers; $146,000 for three months of work by an executive’s son fresh out of college; $2.5 million for three executive apartments and high-end upgrades; $347,000 for private plane trips; $131,000 for Carolina Panthers games; several hundred thousand dollars for sponsorships and charitable gifts; and more than $500,000 for American Express bills.”

Other amenities allegedly included  a nearly $1 million art collection, a theater and a 13-foot touch-screen "media wall" that, the bank says, is the tallest in the United States. Here's the one that caught my eye: An executive allegedly affixed 300,000 pennies to ceiling of an office suite at the company's headquarters in Greenville, S.C.

Say what?!!!

And all this was happening as CertusBank was losing millions - $100 million since 2012. 


This week, co-founder Charles M. Williams, who had been vice chairman and who lives in Charlotte, resigned. He was in charge of mergers and acquisitions and sources said he had been planning to step down since last year. 

According to the FDIC, CertusBank listed noninterest expenses of more than $145 million for 2013 while posting losses of more than $82 million. It had $1.7 billion in total assets and $1.5 billion in liabilities as of Dec. 31.

Here's the kicker. The bank got started by buying up failing or ailing banks in the Southeast.

Yep. We cannot make this stuff up.

- Fannie Flono
Read more here:

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Why our son won't take the EOGs

From Pamela Grundy and Peter Wong, parents of a CMS seventh grader, in response to “Common Core vs. ‘It’s OK, honey’" (Viewpoint, March 28):

In his assessment of the rapidly growing national opt-out movement, Lane Filler suggests that parents who have chosen to opt out of or refuse high-stakes state tests are seeking to “shield” our children from “feelings of inadequacy,” and charges that our actions “soften and degrade the process of parenting.”

We beg to differ.

Like the vast majority of parents who are choosing to refuse the tests, we regularly challenge our son to undertake difficult tasks where he is unlikely to succeed at the first, second or even third attempt – tasks such as mastering a difficult musical piece, or writing a high-quality research paper. These endeavors have real value. High-stakes standardized tests, in contrast, do far more harm than good.

During nearly a decade of experience with high-stakes testing, we have become increasingly appalled at the damage we have seen it do to schools and children. But despite copious documentation of this damage – downplaying of “extras” such as art and music, rampant teaching to the test, test-related increases in dropout rates, talented teachers choosing to pursue different careers – we see no serious efforts to turn to alternative approaches. Elected officials from both parties have failed us. It is time for parents – who have the biggest stake in high-quality public education – to just say no.

As we have discussed opt out/refusal with parents around the state, we have talked to some parents who are concerned about the effect that taking the tests has on their children. These are primarily parents of exceptional children whose cognitive challenges are severe enough that they have no chance of passing the tests put before them. Yet because of one-size-fits-all bureaucratic regulations these children are required to sit and struggle with the tests for hour upon hour. Anyone who has proctored in this kind of situation can tell you what a painful experience it can be for everyone involved. Lane Filler may believe that seeking to shield a child from that kind of experience will “soften and degrade the process of parenting.” We do not.

We did not make our decision lightly. Parenting has always been a tremendous challenge. But we believe our son will learn more valuable lessons from a targeted, carefully considered decision to stand up to the status quo than from a timid conformity to a system we believe is deeply flawed.

Does Charlotte want a lame duck mayor?

It appears the Charlotte City Council will place the same restriction on former mayor Patrick Cannon's replacement as it did on former mayor Anthony Foxx's replacement: You can't want the job bad enough to run for it.

Mayor pro tem Michael Barnes said Monday that there's a consensus among council members that the person they appoint as mayor won't pursue the office heading into the 2015 election. That's how it worked last year when the council chose one of its own, Patsy Kinsey, to fill the five-month vacancy left by Foxx.

The obvious reason: The appointed mayor would have a huge visibility advantage in the next election, if he or she were to run. Take the "interim" off the appointment, and council members could be choosing a mayor for several years, not just to finish Cannon's term. That's a weighty burden.

But if the council is queasy about that, then maybe they shouldn't be making the selection at all. We've already said that the city's voters, not just 11 council members, should get to choose who leads Charlotte for the next two years. Council members shouldn't compound their mistake by telling the next mayor that he or she can't be mayor beyond that.

Doing so may prevent a strong leader from volunteering - "It would be a deal-breaker for some people," Barnes acknowledged. More importantly, it steals from one of the mayor's primary responsibilities - to articulate a vision for the city, then persuade council members and the public to support it. Who's going to care what Mayor ShortTimer thinks about Charlotte's future? How will it be possible to build coalitions and pursue agendas, to lead? 

A weakened mayor may be better for the council, which already has significant power in Charlotte's council-manager form of city government. But that leaves Charlotte with just a figurehead leader - a Queen Charlotte - until we finally get to choose a mayor again.

Peter St. Onge