“CheeBerger, CheeBerger!” -Sen. Phil Berger and the Art of Walking Contradictorily

cheeberger

Sen. Phil Berger’s words that introduced BEST NC’s fourth annual legislative meeting which featured Michelle Rhee is yet another indication that the powers that be in North Carolina are still addicted to reform ideas that not only further harm public schools but erroneously claim that schools should run more like businesses.

But at least he is consistent.

These words are featured on his website and have been widely shared, and they serve to show the deliberate ignorance that perpetuates the “reform” movement (http://www.philberger.org/berger_highlights_major_teacher_bonuses_commitment_to_raise_average_teacher_pay_to_55k).

First of all, this legislative meeting was not open to the media. BEST NC, which claims to be neutral and non-partisan, did not seem to want media coverage or even teacher attendance. Having someone like Sen. Berger open the meeting with an introduction already casts a partisan shadow over the rest of the meeting. If the purpose of the meeting was simply to be informational and an exchange of ideas, then conducting it behind closed doors would not have been needed.

Besides, aren’t we talking about a public institution that uses public money?

Ultimately, Berger’s comments are filled with claims that need to be debunked, especially when it comes to merit pay, incentives, and teacher salaries.

Berger states toward the beginning of his remarks,

“It is good to join so many business leaders, educators and policymakers all with a shared interest in the future of public education in North Carolina.”

The fact that business leaders and policy makers were in the meeting is not in question. But what educators were in the meeting, specifically teachers? Is it not ironic that the public has not heard from one teacher about what was discussed in the meeting? I would have LOVED to be in that meeting as a teacher, and if good ideas were shared, I would be the first to trumpet them.

But alas.

Berger continues,

“But we’ve also focused on ways to incentivize outstanding performance and provide financial rewards for teachers who go above and beyond to help students succeed.”

Oh, merit pay and bonuses. As a teacher, I can tell you that merit pay does not work. Allow me to refer to a letter I wrote to Rep. Skip Stam last year.

“The bottom line is that merit pay destroys collaboration and promotes competition. That is antithetical to the premise of public education. Not only does it force teachers to work against each other, it fosters an atmosphere of exclusivity and disrespect. What could be more detrimental to our students?

Effective public schools are collaborative communities, not buildings full of contractors who are determined to outperform others for the sake of money. And when teachers are forced to focus on the results of test scores, teaching ceases from being a dynamic relationship between student and teacher, but becomes a transaction driven by a carrot on an extended stick.

Furthermore, the GOP-led NCGA still does not seem to acknowledge that student growth is different than student test scores. When some of our colleagues deal with students who experience more poverty, health issues, and other factors, then how can you say that those teachers do not “grow” those students when an arbitrary test score is all that is used to measure students?

Besides, if you think merit pay is effective, then I would question your willingness to fund that merit pay. Anyone who has taught in North Carolina for an extended period of time remembers that we had the ABC’s in effect for years which gave teachers/schools bonuses based on scores. One problem with that model (and you stated it in the interview) was that it pitted teachers against each other. Another problem that you did not mention is that Raleigh decided not to fund it any longer.”

And then Berger backed his point with a singular example.

“Please take a look at what happened in one Cumberland County elementary school when the faculty learned two of their peers would be rewarded for their outstanding work with students.”

Here’s that video: https://www.dropbox.com/s/brt9glwz4razc5y/Elizabeth%20Cashwell%20Elementary.mp4?dl=0.

Only one example? That’s hardly proof. That’s almost staged. What teachers show their principal in a meeting may not be what they actually feel. And if Berger really wanted to know if teachers in North Carolina thought this bonus pay was effective, then he should have allowed each teacher to answer an anonymous questionnaire.

And I am sure that what was shown by Berger is the exception rather than the rule.

Berger’s comments also included a jab at NCAE and other teacher advocacy groups.

“Instead, what we hear from many entrenched education bureaucrats – and from the North Carolina affiliate of the national teachers’ union – is that this kind of policy creates jealousy and dissension in our schools. In fact, some even deride it as “treating teachers like assembly line workers.”

Of course he used the word “union” because he is among business leaders in a right-to-work state. But it is ironic that he does specifically point out NCAE which has successfully appealed policies made by a Berger-led constituency like the removal of due-process rights because they were deemed unconstitutional.

Besides, if BEST NC wanted to bring all stakeholders together to discuss what is best (pardon the pun), then NCAE would have been present there as well.

Berger continues:

“Instead, that policy initiative treats teachers like the professionals they are, and creates a compensation model in line with how most other professionals are paid.

“This is the kind of innovative solution – one based on business principles – that my colleagues in the General Assembly and I have worked hard to implement over the past six years in order to improve education outcomes.”

This claim that we should run public schools more as a business rather than a service is old, worn-out, and erroneous.

And I have made this argument before.

“Every one of the assertions about adopting a business model in public schools that I have encountered always places the schools in the scope of a business. Maybe that paradigm needs to be shifted. If you want to truly envision a business model in schools, you might want to view all angles of the argument.

Try and see if you could run a business like a public school. Maybe the differences between a public service and private enterprise might become more apparent because you’re not even comparing apples to oranges. You’re comparing apples to rocks.”

What if businesses had to:

  • Be prepared to open up every book and have everything audited. We don’t even do that with private schools that receive Opportunity Grants.
  • Be prepared to publicize all of the salaries of the people who work for you. ALL OF THEM. And those salries are stipulated by the government, not the market.
  • Know that you must allow every stockholder to have equal power on how your run your business even if they own just one share.
  • Be prepared to abide by protocols and procedures established by people outside of the business.
  • Be prepared to not get to choose your raw materials.
  • Be prepared to have everything open to the press.
  • You will not get to advertise or market yourself.
  • Even though you are supposedly “fully” funded, you will have to raise funds because you are not really fully funded.
  • Be prepared to work hours, schedule, and calendar will be dictated by those who do not even work for your business.
  • Be prepared to have to communicate with all of your clients’ parents and guardians.
  • And finally Be prepared to understand that YOU WILL NOT MAKE A MONETARY PROFIT. Why? Because you are not a business. You are a public service.

Berger ended his manufactured resume of “improving” public education by offering a string of “accomplishments” which are more contradictory than literally true.

  1. “Improve(d) graduation rates” – Graduation rates are one of the easiest statistics to manipulate. Create a statewide 10-point grading system and have school systems dictate that a “50” is the lowest grade possible for a student, then it would be hard for a student who chooses not apply himself to actually NOT graduate.
  2. “Better inform(ed) parents of what our public schools are doing and how well they are doing it (transparent school grades)” – And that Jeb Bush style of school performance grading shows exactly how poverty affects school systems which is ironic for Berger to say considering that he boasts of a state surplus while nearly 25% of children in our state suffer from poverty and are still serviced by the underfunded public schools.
  3. “Empower(ed) parents with greater choice and greater innovation in their kids’ education (charter schools, opportunity scholarships)” – The word “choice” is very interesting. Charter schools have not shown to improve outcomes, but have been shown to be most selective in whom they allow to attend. And when over 75% of the vouchers go to religious schools that can discriminate based on religious beliefs, the word “choice” doesn’t carry the same meaning. It also does not take much research to find charter schools that fail in their purpose and see monies pouring into schools that do not even teach viable curriculums.

    Sometimes there can be embezzling (http://www.fayobserver.com/news/local/fayetteville-man-accused-of-embezzling-more-than-from-church-withholding/article_c75b83cc-3cd1-59fb-a002-bd240e46858c.html). Ironically, the school where this occurred, Trinity Christian, is located in Fayetteville. That’s in Cumberland County – the same county where the two teachers highlighted earlier in Berger’s remarks hail from. Apparently, having these fantastic teachers in the public school system in Cumberland County did not deter the allowance of Trinity Christian to receive more money ($990k+) in Opportunity Grant scholarships (vouchers) than any other school in THE STATE!

  4. “And attract, retain and reward the highest quality teachers in our classrooms” – Actually that’s laughable. The same General Assembly eliminated due-process rights, graduate degree pay bumps, and the Teaching Fellows program as well as put a vice on the NC university system. That’s driving potential teachers away and forcing other teachers to leave NC or the profession altogether. One simply needs to see the seismic drop in teacher candidates in our schools of education and see how well we are “attracting” people.

    Oh, and that HB2 debacle that has cost our state millions in lost revenue and even more in reputation still looms while Berger blames others for its effect even though he helped to craft it and pass it with a supermajority during a “special” session of the NCGA. That’s quality!

But the most egregious misrepresentation offered was saved for last and it deals with teacher salaries.

“Most of you have probably heard me talk about the average 15.5 percent pay raise that we’ve provided teachers since 2013.
“And you’ve heard me explain that, prior to 2011, public schools were struggling with declining state support; that thousands of state-funded teaching positions had been eliminated, teachers had been furloughed, and teacher pay had been frozen.
“And all too often, the people most critical of what this Republican-led General Assembly has done are the same people who were directly responsible for those cuts and furloughs.
“But under Republican leadership, state funding for our public schools has reached record levels.
“Beginning teacher pay is at an all-time high, and average teacher pay has climbed to $50,000 for the first time in state history.
“And this General Assembly has already publicly committed in our last budget to raising average teacher pay to $55,000 over the next two years. It is encouraging that our new governor has committed to partnering with us to continue increasing average teacher pay.
“But there is one data point – one significant fact – that hasn’t received a lot of attention, and that is how much more teachers will earn over the course of a career thanks to our pay reforms.
“The old pay scale was a ball and chain – it took teachers 30 years to reach the top. I can’t think of any other professionals who have to wait three decades to get to the top.
“I cannot believe that the policymakers who designed such a system could honestly contend it was done in an effort to treat teachers as professionals – on the contrary, a 30-year trek to maximum pay is what assembly line compensation looks like.
“Under the new scale for the 2018-19 school year, teachers will reach a base salary of $50,000 in half the time – or 15 years in the classroom.”

This is the same BS offered by former governor Pat McCrory who became the first incumbent governor to not get reelected in a year that saw 20k more North Carolinians vote for Trump than Clinton. In response to McCrory, I countered last summer with:

“The last four years have seen tremendous changes to teacher pay. For new teachers entering in the profession here in NC there is no longer any graduate degree pay bump, no more longevity pay (for anyone), and a changed salary schedule that makes it possible for a teacher to top out on the salary schedule within 15 years without really any raise for the last fifteen years until retirement.

And that top salary for new teachers is barely over 50K. So how can that be the average pay in NC be over 50K when no one can really make much over 50K as a new teacher in his/her entire career unless they all become nationally certified (which takes a monetary investment by the teacher to start)?

Easy. He is counting all of the veteran teachers’ current salaries in that figure. The very people whose salaries simply disgust the governor and the General Assembly to the point that they had to take measures to “lower” them are actually being used to tout the governor’s bold statement.

Furthermore, the governor is counting on local supplements. This comes in the face of a budget that is allocating less money to each central office of each school system for administrative costs. Now each county has to raise more money to actually offset those costs and also allow for local supplements. And not all localities provide the same supplements.

Any veteran teacher who is making above 50K based on seniority, graduate pay, and national boards are gladly counted in this figure. It simply drives up the CURRENT average pay. But when these veteran teachers who have seniority, graduate pay, and possibly national certification retire (and many are doing that early at 25 years), then the very people who seem to be a “burden” on the educational budget leave the system.

In actuality, that would drive the average salary down as time goes on. If the top salary that any teacher could make is barely over 50K (some will have higher as National Board Certified Teachers, but not a high percentage), then how can you really tout that average salaries will be higher?”

But remember that this meeting was closed and the audience was not there to question. They were there to reaffirm the very myths that guide the actions of the current powers in Raleigh to further dismantle public education.

So much for transparency.

 

 

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