“Does NCAE Help or Harm?” – About That Misguided Op-ed From the Civitas Institute

This week, the Civitas Institute posted an op-ed on its site by a former teacher from the Winston-Salem / Forsyth County school system entitled “Does NCAE Harm or Help?”

When the Civitas Institute mentions anything about NCAE, one can usually bet that it will be against the teacher organization and not only question its actions and policies, but go out of its way to belittle the activism that many of NCAE’s members involve themselves in.

But as an NCAE member, the first thing that comes to mind when reading this uninformed missive is that the Civitas Institute is literally scared of NCAE. They have been for a long time ever since teachers started fighting back at the policies of the current GOP establishment in the NC General Assembly  emboldened by people like Art Pope who guides the Civitas Institute.

And every time I am come into contact with Civitas writings and opinions, I think of this:


That website was established by the Civitas Institute, which was founded by Art Pope. It showed NCAE members how to withdraw their membership in NCAE and make $450 because that is what they would not be spending in dues. Also remember that Art Pope was the architect of Pat McCrory’s first budget that began the process of de-professionalizing the teaching profession in North Carolina that NCAE is fighting to regain.

Honestly, it seems that if anything, the Civitas Institute has been more active in combating NCAE than actually helping public education in the state itself – even to the point of allowing misguided op-eds such as Ms. Fagge penned appear on its website.

She begins,

The North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE), the largest teachers’ union in North Carolina, stirs the emotions and frustrations of educators and the general public by insisting that nothing less than a massive influx of funds to raise teacher salaries and per pupil spending will save NC’s educational future.

Interesting that she forgets we are in a right-to-work state. There are no unions. But if she is so adamant that North Carolina not need unions then she would not mind if we put that on the ballot as an amendment. Makes one think of Missouri and what they just did about their status as a right-to-work.

If Ms. Fagge is going to call NCAE a union, then she could at least allow NCAE to have collective bargaining rights to actually be a union. But NCAE doesn’t, which is why her assertions actually serve to strengthen the need for NCAE. But if Ms. Fagge really wants to see what unions do, then she should go to other places like Chicago and New York. Now those are unions.

In doing so, NCAE diminishes a complex problem that requires input from parents and policymakers and from a variety of teachers who are closest to the problems.

What problem is Ms. Fagge referring to? The complex problem of what the NCGA has done to public education these last few years that caused over 20,000 teachers (NCAE members and non-members and parents alike) to march in May?

While I was never a member of NCAE, I have observed the organization for over 30 years and often question how their policies actually improve education.”

Well in my time in NC they kept my due-process rights and my graduate degree pay bump intact and provided counsel for furthering my credentials while fighting for younger teachers to receive those same benefits. That’s just a brief list, but it goes on and on. Oddly, they protected those rights for all teachers – not just NCAE members.

I’m confused by the loud cries from various NCAE members about the needs of their students and about how current policies are cheating children out of a sound education, yet their mission statement (and many of their programs) place children last, particularly children not in a public school. ”

While specificity into what these loud cries are about, it really comes down to this from the NC State Constitution:

The General Assembly shall provide by taxation and otherwise for a general and uniform system of free public schools, which shall be maintained at least nine months in every year, and wherein equal opportunities shall be provided for all students.”

That’s from the state constitution. And to say that NCAE places students last is nothing more than an infantile snip. In strengthening schools and empowering teachers, NCAE places students first because teachers are there for students and if they see obstacles in their way of serving students would it not be proper to fight to have those obstacles removed?

If Ms. Fagge was a teacher, would she not have fought to remove obstacles that impeded her ability to serve her students?

It makes me wonder if members really understand what they are getting in return for the dues they pay the organization.  Do members support the application of their acclaimed scarce resources to executive salaries, national organizational causes, and political causes and candidates? Are they comfortable when their voice is used as leverage by the NEA, in letters expressing opposition to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and to the recent nomination of a Supreme Court Justice? Do all NCAE members know and approve of being counted as supporting single-payer healthcare and “free” college? The Key Issues/Legislative Action Center tab at NEA.org details these initiatives and stances.”

Actually, look at the converse of this. Would Ms. Fagge agree with everything that the Civitas Institute stands for? Everything? Would she question anything? If not, then she would be as blindly loyal to a dogma as she claims NCAE members are.

The last I checked, as an NCAE member, I had voting power and a voice in what happens on the local, state, and national levels. Does she have that with Civitas? Besides, I do agree with many of the causes NCAE stands for that make healthcare more accessible for my lower-income students and creating pathways for them to attend college if they choose and oppose possible officials who do not remove obstacles for those students who look to me for help and guidance.

NCAE seems to have a vested interest in preventing real and productive communication among educational stakeholders. If NCAE couldn’t keep educators dissatisfied and legislators frustrated, those groups might have to communicate to solve educational challenges.”

So what would Ms. Fagge say about that recent stunt by the current NCGA to pass the latest state budget through a nuclear option (committee report)? Is that an example of “real and productive communication” with the removal of debate and possible amendments?

Are all of those “special sessions” that the NCGA has conducted to pass extremely partisan legislation another set of examples that Ms. Fagge would call effective communication? Because if that is the case, then I would question Ms. Fagge’s ability to accurately define what effective communication is.

Their publications portray teachers as a victimized group and busy teachers are often willing to buy into that argument. I believe that the May 16th march took advantage of teachers at a tiring and frustrating time of the year and fomented those daily frustrations into a political stance designed to piggyback on the protests in other states.

Again, over 20,000 teachers joined by thousands of more public school advocates came together in May to march and rally for schools and students. I am going to take the word of those many thousands of people who actually were in Raleigh over the opinion of one person who claims that teachers are being politically partisan when she is contributing to a political think tank herself.

And yes, teachers are busy – doing things to overcome obstacles that stand in the way of schools and students achieving.

Sadly, I see NCAE as an organization that ultimately doesn’t support positive educational outcomes for North Carolina students.”

Happily, I see them as supporting positive outcomes for North Carolina’s students.

While I understand that their stated goals revolve around support of public schools and teachers, I am confused by their opposition to military family vouchers, Opportunity Scholarships, and the expansion of homeschooling.”

Well, vouchers have not been proven to be effective. Just look at recent publications by Duke University and NC State referred to in this post: What This Indiana Voucher Study Reflects About NC’s Opportunity Grants – And It Is Not Positive.  If Ms. Fagge wants to make the argument that vouchers are raising student achievement, then maybe she should show some empirical information from NC’s use of it.

And no, as an NCAE member, I am not against people exercising their right to send their students to private schools or keeping them in home schools; I am against tax money funding those endeavors unless in extreme cases.

Educational choices do not weaken public schools; choices promote healthy competition. I also believe that families must have the right to meet their child’s educational needs.

Since when is public schooling about competition? It’s really about collaboration.

And if families have the right to meet the educational needs of thier children and public schools are supposed to be offering each child a quality education and obstacles are in the way, shouldn’t there be people to fight for those schools and those children? That’s what NCAE does.

This belief was expressed by a former NCAE lobbyist, who discovered that his own child needed support not available in a public school.” 

This is an interesting point made by Ms. Fagge because it actually proves that schools are underfunded to accommodate some students.

And if she wants to give one person’s account as proof of her viewpoint, then I will offer mine. I have a child with both Down Syndrome and autism. No school would take him except the public schools and through meetings, IEP’s, sweat equity, and hard discussions, we are all meeting his needs as they arise.

NCAE promotes programs and policies reflective of their parent organization, NEA. They place a growing emphasis on social and political issues such as NEA’s stances on photo ID as an anti-voter initiative and public education as the primary provider and funder of Pre-K. NCAE advocates for all teachers to receive significant raises, even though some teachers are less than effective in their positions. While I have concerns with how student test scores are used as the measure of teacher effectiveness, I do believe it is possible and necessary for educational stakeholders to find consensus on this topic.

How many issues does Ms. Fagge want to make claims about, but never offer any explanation for? The photo ID / anti-voter initiative will be decided by the voters, but it is interesting that the court system threw out the previous attempt of this because it was unconstitutional. And pre-K? Ms. Fagge needs to again be specific, but studies show that strong pre-K programs do so much to alleviate problems later in an academic life.

And it would be interesting to hear what Ms. Fagge would define as “effective.”

Only a real, civil and professional partnership between teachers and policy makers that respects differences can achieve common ground and the shared vision that can truly promote policies that work.”

Is that really what the Civitas Institute promotes?

It is hard for a professional partnership to exist between teachers and policy makers when the people who run the show in Raleigh refuse to allow teachers to be part of the conversation. That’s not a relationship. That’s shunning the very people who know most about what happens in classrooms.

Without the ever- present adversarial stances, we might see teachers invited to “shadow” a state representative to see some of the issues involved in developing education legislation. We might have legislators, State Board of Education members, or senior staff at the Department of Public Instruction spending more time in classrooms to see the result of legislation and how educators and legislators can better collaborate.

Actually, as a voter, taxpayer, and advocate, I should never be invited to come see how legislation works. But, I am there quite a bit. And if lawmakers really wanted to be transparent, then secret caucuses and special sessions would never have to be a reality. And my classroom is always open to them.

But it is funny how Ms. Fagge throws in the word “collaborate” when she talks about the need for competition earlier.

As Steven Covey urged, we must ‘seek first to understand, then to be understood.’

Here Ms. Fagge is absolutely correct.

She should probably preach that to those in Raleigh and to herself because what she wrote in this op-ed exhibits nothing in the form of trying to understand. In fact, she assumes.

Yet, if she was still in the classroom, I would certainly have marched for her, her school, and her students as I did in May.