Hard to Build Bridges In Public Education With Those Creating the Divides

Simply put. it’s hard to build bridges in this state with those who are making the very divides that separate us.

Before the Great Recession took hold of the country, North Carolina had what was considered the top public school system in the Southeast and one of the best in the nation. That is no longer the case.

While other states have helped their public education systems recover, North Carolina’s General Assembly deliberately put into place measures that continued to weaken public education in the name of “reform” and privatization that included:

  • Removal of Graduate Degree Pay
  • Removal of Longevity Pay
  • Removal of Career Status
  • Removal of Due- Process Rights
  • School Performance Grading System
  • Bonus Pay Schemes
  • Vouchers
  • Charter Cap Removed
  • Class Size Chaos
  • Removal of Professional Development Funds

And there are many more.

When one surveys the terrain of North Carolina and sees just how many divides there exist, it might be easy to say that we need to “build bridges” and bring people back together again “at the table” to start a dialogue of how we can be great again.

But then it needs to be asked why those divides are there in the first place and why have certain parts of North Carolina been shut off from others.

Yes, public education can be the ultimate bridge that spans socio-economic divides, that links the rural to the urban, that allows for social gains, yet the parties who are in the construction of those bridges must be in complete synchronicity as far as goals and intentions are concerned.

Recently, The 2018-2019 North Carolina Teacher of the Year, Freebird McKinney, delivered a talk to a group of legislative leaders and select audience members ahead of a rather contentious “Dinner For Innovation & Leadership” on February 19th  in Raleigh. His words can be found here .

He stated among other things,

“I want to first thank the legislators who are here in attendance this afternoon, thank you for believing that public education is the foundation for a democratic society, one that pledges for all students a just and equitable education, and a professional respect for the teachers who have dedicated their lives to this calling. Thank you to BEST NC for believing in our group, for inviting us to the Innovation Lab in September when we first actualized the vision to create a positive force of “bridge builders” across this state. A special thank you to all the educational advocacy groups for helping to provide a “place at the table” in honored representation of our profession and the thousands of teachers who serve our state. Many members of the BEST NC board are here this afternoon, and we are grateful for your dedication, contributions, and leadership in our collective mission. “

He concluded that specific paragraph with “Today, reflects “our place at the table” with a goal of representing educator voices across North Carolina.”

To be blunt, McKinney does not speak for me or represent my voice in this endeavor. Not because his intentions are not good, but because many of the very people he is praising in that arena are the reasons why we have divides in this state to begin. I would not build bridges with them or be at their table because over the last eight years, many of them have been making those divides bigger to span and the table harder to get to unless you are on the menu.

In fact, many of the people who were at the very private February 19th gathering to talk about a “public good” are the very people I am fighting against on behalf of public education.

It’s hard to want to build a bridge or sit a table with a state superintendent who when 20+K teachers come to Raleigh runs the other way to avoid having to “confront” their needs and concerns.

It’s hard to want to build a bridge or sit a table with a state superintendent who while making platitudes and vapid speeches about what will bring back greatness to NC’s schools actually reorganizes DPI, helps slash its budget, and then removes the exemption status from many in DPI so that they can be fired more easily.

It’s hard to want to build a bridge or sit at a table with board members of a group who actively promote the policies of the Koch brothers and their use of dark money.

It’s hard to want to build a bridge or sit at a table with board members of a group who actively promote the use of secret algorithms to measure our schools and our teachers

It’s hard to want to build a bridge or sit at a table with people who allow North Carolina to be the only state that uses achievement scores more than growth to determine a school’s worth.

It’s hard to want to build a bridge or sit at a table with legislators who actively fought against Medicaid expansion in a state where over %20 of our public school students lives in poverty.

It’s hard to want to build a bridge or sit at a table with legislators who deliberately passed a budget bill through a committee (nuclear option) rather than open up the discussion for debates and amendments.

It’s hard to want to build a bridge or sit at a table with people who champion a voucher system that is considered the least transparent in the country and overwhelmingly goes to religious schools.

It’s hard to want to build a bridge or sit at a table with people who champion charter school construction in places that jeopardize the very funds of the traditional public schools that already service those students.

It’s hard to want to build a bridge or sit a table with people who knowingly allowed per-pupil expenditures to remain lower when adjusted for inflation than levels before 2008.

The list goes on and on….

And teachers know how to build bridges: differentiated structures that expand classrooms and curricula to bring students together in ways that help them achieve in academics and life.

But the people whom McKinney is praising and celebrating are not the kinds of “bridge builders” teachers are. They thrive on the actual divides because there is a profit in it for someone.

The people whom McKinney is praising and celebrating are not really inviting teachers “to the table.” They are using teachers as the centerpieces. If that was not the case, then why was Feb. 19th not opened up to every teacher? Why were the announcements kept so secret?

If these supposed “public school advocates” were so bent on improving conditions for students and for teachers, then what have they been doing for the last eight years while in power in Raleigh?

Certainly not “bridge-building.”

Look at Los Angeles. Look at Chicago. Look at Denver. Look at Oakland. Look at West Virginia. Look at Kentucky and Arizona. Those teachers were not “bridge-building.” They were fighting against those who were creating the divides.

And that’s why this teacher will keep fighting.

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