The Top Ten Educational Issues From 2020 That Need Our Attention in 2021

1. COVID-19 & REOPENING PLANS

Simply put,educators need to have a bigger voice on reopening plans.

Here are the latest numbers of cases from the NCDHHS site.

There are 117 LEAs in NC. Add to that, the needs of elementary schools may differ from middle schools and high schools as far as reopening is concerned. There may have to be multiple plans for each school system from the smallest of counties that have only a few schools to the biggest districts with over 100 schools.

And each plan that is crafted, revised, and implemented needs to have the voices and input from those who are on the front lines and have the clearest perspectives of what happens in schools on a daily basis: certified and classified staff.

Not just teachers, but also

  • Teacher Assistants
  • Testing Coordinators
  • Administrative Assistants
  • Guidance Counselors
  • Media Assistants
  • Interpreters
  • Therapists – speech, occupational, physical
  • Data Control and Clerks
  • Janitors
  • Maintenance
  • Bus Drivers and Transportation
  • Food Services
  • Crossing Guards
  • Nurses

Without input from those who know schools best, any reopening plan will be just another example of people who may not know what they are really dealing with issuing ill-conceived mandates that may do more damage than good.

2. STILL NO NEW BUDGET

Below is from November 2019:

Over 160 days and millions of dollars wasted to keep the NCGA in “session” for 2019 and no budget was ever passed. And according to Sen. Phil Berger, it was all about teachers.

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NOTHING HAS CHANGED IN OVER A YEAR.

And we are now in a pandemic.

3. REMOTE LEARNING & PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT

The average school year is 36 weeks. Most school systems operate by a semester system of 18 weeks each. Split those into quarters and you have four 9-week periods that traditional schools calendars utilize.

We have spent almost three entire quarters in remote teaching and learning.

Add to that the post-planning and pre-planning involved.

And those online workshops that many teachers had to complete to learn new software packages like CANVAS.

From WUNC.org in December of 2018:

“The General Assembly cut the budget line item for teacher professional development from the state budget during the recession and has never restored it. In 2008, the state budgeted $12.6 million for educator professional development. That line item has been reduced to zero. Now schools might pay for some professional development from other budget areas—like federal funding or state funding to support digital learning — or teachers can turn to grants.”

“Never restored” are two words most associated with public school education in North Carolina when comparing the climate right before COVID-19 to the one before the Great Recession and the advent of ALEC-inspired “reforms” to public education championed by current NCGA leadership.

Ask any professional in an ever-changing, global society about the need to keep up with latest practices and approaches to serving those who depend on them. He /she will probably cite the need to keep learning and coming into contact with others who are attempting to not staying stagnant or becoming out-of-date. They will talk about the need for ongoing professional development.

Teachers are no different. And the state of NC used to help make that happen for teachers, but in the years of a supposed economic boom, the fact that this investment in teacher professional development had not been restored and expanded is completely ignorant and outright spiteful.

And now we have this new economic downturn. If history serves as a guide, we will not be getting those funds back for professional development anytime soon. But it would be hard to not think that the past ten months have been nothing less than on the job professional development.

4. FEDERAL WAIVING OF TESTS

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos signaled last September that the federal government will not be issuing waivers for federally mandated tests this spring because of interruptions due to the pandemic.

From EdWeek:

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has informed states that they should not count on getting the same waivers from federal testing mandates for this school year that they got last spring as the pandemic shut down schools.

In a Thursday letter to chief state school officers, DeVos said that these annual, summative assessments in English/language arts, math, and science are “at the very core” of the bipartisan agreement behind the Every Student Succeds Act, the main federal K-12 education law. And at a time when vulnerable students have been hurt the most by the pandemic, such tests are “among the most reliable tools available to help us understand how children are performing in school.”

Look at that last part again.

And at a time when vulnerable students have been hurt the most by the pandemic, such tests are “among the most reliable tools available to help us understand how children are performing in school.”

The woman who got her hand slapped three times by the courts for trying to divert more CARES money to private schools that do not have to be measured by such tests wants to “understand” how children are performing in school.”

But in less than three weeks, she will not be Secretary of Education any longer.

5. SEVERE TEACHER CANDIDATE SHORTAGE

Before this pandemic even started, this state was already facing a teacher candidate shortage – one that has been manufactured with “reforms” that have devalued the profession in ways that have teacher prep programs in our colleges and universities seeing a 30% drop in students. Programs like SB599 and Teach For America and TeachNC have not shown the ability to replenish that pipeline with career educators.

Now a bigger questions looms: What is NC doing to keep from having a massive teacher shortage next year?

Politicizing school reopenings, neglecting teacher input, massive workloads, and an NC General Assembly that won’t even pass a budget but cherry-picks stats to prop up a false narrative all are about to come to a perfect storm.

And the result will be a massive teacher shortage for next year.

Please remember that before the pandemic, most every school system was scratching to make sure there was a teacher in every classroom – DURING AN ECONOMIC BOOM.

6. “HERO” TO “COWARDS”

The year 2020 is all but guaranteed to reside in the mind and memories of the public school educators well after their careers in teaching are over.

At least parts of two school years will involve a virtual component or highly stressful in-person situation within a pandemic that is not anywhere under control and an election year that has already politicized school reopenings.

The goal of schooling is learning, but ironically while many are bemoaning that too many schools are “closed” we are really seeing how this six-month stark alteration of life is teaching one of the most most powerful lessons any “student” could learn.

And that lesson is that too many people in society who offer loud opinions and are capable of affecting conditions really do not understand the complexity of public schools and the obstacles that public schools and its educators face on a daily basis.

It’s not so odd then to see how in March teachers were heroes in the eyes of so many. Now, many are cowards in those same eyes.

In March, the state quickly shut down school buildings in the state due to a few known cases of a virus. That alone probably saved lives and staved off transmission. Then we had to enter the world of remote instruction literally overnight. No real preparation for it; no professional development.

Literally overnight.

In March and April, teachers and school leaders were being hailed as “heroes.” In November and December, many of those same people became “obstacles” to those who want to fully reopen school buildings.

7. MISLEADING AVERAGE TEACHER PAY

From the libertarian think tank John Locke Foundation last May,

“According to DPI budget analysts, North Carolina’s average teacher salary reached $54,682 this year.  The 2019-20 average was an increase of $742 or 1.4% compared to the previous school year.  DPI declares that North Carolina’s average teacher compensation ranks second only to Georgia in the Southeast.  Last year, North Carolina ranked fourth in the region.”

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Of course, Stoops would spin this “statistic”into an empty narrative. Even Tim Moore tweeted out some praise for this empty “victory.”

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That figure is one of the most grossly manufactured statistics in this state. Let’s lay bare the facts of how that figure has come about.

The operative word here is “average”. What GOP stalwarts purposefully fail to tell you is that most of the raises have occurred at the very low rungs of the salary schedule. Of course, you can raise the salary of first year teachers by a few thousand dollars and it would give them an average raise of maybe 10-15%. You would only have to give veteran teachers a very small raise funded by longevity pay (which we no longer get) and the OVERALL average raise still looks good, and not much money has to be invested.

“Average” does not mean “actual”. But it sounds great to those who don’t understand the math.

So how can that be the average pay in NC be over 54K when no one can really make much over 52K 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. North Carolina is counting all of the veteran teachers’ current salaries in that figure. The very people whose salaries simply disgusted the former governor and the General Assembly to the point that they had to take measures to “lower” them are actually being used to tout this new wonderful “average.”

Furthermore, this average is counting on local supplements. This comes in the face of budgets that are 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. Imagine what the pandemic will be doing to these funds.

8. LEANDRO

Remember the Leandro Report released by WestED in 2019?

It’s 301 pages.

It has 65 data exhibits in the actual report.

It has 52 data exhibits in the appendices.

And it has 12 basic findings listed below.

  • Finding #1: Funding in North Carolina has declined over the last decade.
  • Finding #2: The current distribution of education funding is inequitable.
  • Finding #3: Specific student populations need higher levels of funding.
  • Finding #4: Greater concentrations of higher-needs students increases funding needs.
  • Finding #5: Regional variations in costs impact funding needs.
  • Finding #6: The scale of district operations impacts costs.
  • Finding #7: Local funding and the Classroom Teacher allotments create additional funding inequities.
  • Finding #8: New constraints on local flexibility hinder district ability to align resources with student needs.
  • Finding #9: Restrictions on Classroom Teacher allotments reduce flexibility and funding levels.
  • Finding #10: Frequent changes in funding regulations hamper budget planning.
  • Finding #11: The state budget timeline and adjustments create instability.
  • Finding #12: There is inadequate funding to meet student needs.
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As the Leandro Report by WestEd was released, it was no doubt that those who have been at the helm of budgetary control in North Carolina would try and deflect the report’s findings.

It’s been over a year AND STILL NOT ANY ACKNOWLEDGEMENT FROM STATE LEADERSHIP IN THE NCGA ON HOW TO IMPLEMENT ITS FINDINGS.

9. NEW TEACHER RETIREE HEALTH BENEFITS

If you are hired as a new teacher today or in the future, you will not have something that teachers hired before 2021 have: retiree health benefits.

A report today in the News & Observer explains that the budget set forth in 2017’s long session of the NCGA did away with retiree health benefits for hires on and after January 1, 2021 to “save money.”

How sadistic is it that in 2017 this was done and three years later we are in the middle of a pandemic and will probably have an incredible teacher and teacher candidate shortage in our public schools next fall. Retiree health benefits were a big recruitment tool for new teachers.

Now that is gone with graduate degree pay bumps and due-process rights. And longevity pay.

Oh, and that same 2017 NCGA that took away those retiree health benefits are the same people who did not expand Medicaid in 2017 or 2018 or 2019 or 2020.

10. NEW STATE SUPERINTENDENT

It will be hard for Catherine Truitt to do any worse than the puppet whose office she will take over. Actually, I would say that about anyone who follows Mark Johnson.

As I write this, this country is about to have a new president with a new Secretary of Education to be named. Betsy DeVos and her disastrous pharisaical influence will be out of office. Her stances on not waiving tests this year and funneling more monies to charters and vouchers will be replaced by someone whose wife was a public school English teacher.

Here are some questions for the new state super. Not rhetorical ones, but questions that will require answers offered through prolonged action.

What will she be doing to elevate the teaching profession here in North Carolina? That’s not really that broad of a question considering that with the combination of the pandemic’s effects and prolonged political pressure, we as a state are about to see one hell of a teacher shortage. The numbers of teachers retiring early or seeking new careers are frightening if only a quarter of the rumors I hear have any truth.

Is she going to fight for more money and resources for our public schools for not only instructional needs but for other needs like nurses, social workers, and counselors? What is she willing to do to combat what will very likely be budget cuts because of the pandemic and because of the people who control the NCGA?

How well is she going to work with the State Board of Education? Mark Johnson carried on a rather contentious relationship with the BOE. And will she speak out against the new Lt. Governor when he makes claims about how there is no systemic racism and that people who identify as gay are less than human?

What will she do to raise morale in the Department of Public Instruction? Johnson decimated it. Berger had him reorganize it. It seems to be an intentional shadow of what it used to be.

Is she going to continue to not engage with NCAE? It’s growing. Yes, it’s growing. In a state that bans public sector collective bargaining, that is a Right to Work state, that is an At Will state, and that took away graduate degree pay and due-process rights from new teachers, it seems odd that so many in Raleigh and elsewhere spend so much time and money worrying about NCAE and at the same time publicly dismiss NCAE’s influence.

But I think the most important question I have is who is she really going to listen to concerning issues about public education? Your donors? Business leaders who belong to education reform groups? Berger and Moore? Charter School groups? PEFNC? SAS? Think Tanks? ALEC? Or maybe, just maybe…teachers?

One thought on “The Top Ten Educational Issues From 2020 That Need Our Attention in 2021

  1. They’re dismantling education every single day. I don’t understand how Berger and Moore can get away with what they’ve concocted. No longevity and no pay increase in six years. They ought to be sued and liable for retroactive pay for money lost.

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