Open Enrollment Is Approaching – Remember That 2017 Letter From the State Treasurer to Teachers About the State Insurance Plan?

From our State Treasurer back in 2017:

“Did You Know?

During 2017, the state spent $3.3 billion on medical and pharmacy benefits. At the same time, costs have increased 5 to 10 percent while funding for the Plan only saw a 4 percent increase. In addition, the state has a $34 billion unfunded liability for retiree health care. This liability is a result of promises that were made for lifetime benefits but no money was ever put aside to pay for that benefit.

What Can You Do?

You can help sustain this benefit by taking control of your medical costs.”

Many teachers and other state employees received those words from Dale Folwell, CPA who is also the State Treasurer for North Carolina. He sent a letter with new ID cards for the state health plan that is contracted through Blue Cross and Blue Shield.

And simply put, his letter was rather insulting, at least to me and to some other teachers.

I could not help to think that in a missive meant to outline benefits to a person whom “North Carolina values,” I was also being told that I literally cost too much, was promised too much, and that it was my job to not be as much of a burden on the state.

And that paragraph under the “Did You Know?” heading actually shows a bit of a contradiction in how the state seems to treat the teaching profession: as prices for services and products go up in most every segment of the economy, the willingness to invest in those very things seems to not be the same.

What if the words associated with benefits were replaced with words associated with public education?

“During 2017, the state spent $3.3 billion on public schools. At the same time, costs have increased 5 to 10 percent while funding for education only saw a 4 percent increase. In addition, the state has a $34 billion deficit in unfunded mandates for public education. This liability is a result of promises that were made for our state’s students but no money was ever put aside to pay for those.”

That’s actually what really happened with public education: watching costs rise to properly educate students and recruit and keep quality teachers without raising our own investments to keep up with those costs.

And the idea that we teachers and government employees must try and cut costs to help the state finance insurance benefits when the state literally is giving massive corporate tax breaks and limiting the very revenues that come to the state to begin with is rather hypocritical.

Maybe Folwell needs to talk to Blue Cross and Blue Shield and get them to better negotiate prices for medical care and not us.

Because telling a bunch of teachers to “save” money on their medical costs to help the state is like telling teachers to teach more students with less money spent per pupil buying power.

Oh, wait.

That’s already happening.

They Are Already Cutting Teacher Retirement

Below is the salary schedule for a teacher in North Carolina for the 2020-2021 school year.

Any teacher new to the profession in the last seven years would never be on the second schedule because newer teachers are not allowed a pay bump for graduate degrees. Notice how the salaries also plateau after year 15.

So…

In essence, that second salary schedule would not exist for new teachers in the last few years.

There is no longevity pay included as it does not exist for teachers any longer.

Retirement is based on the average of four highest paid years of a teacher’s career. According to the 2020-2021 salary schedule, the most a teacher with a master’s degree and NBPTS certification could make (and be eligible for full pension with the correct number of years of service) is $58,240.

And as of this year, new teachers would not even get retiree health benefits.

Now go back a few years before the Great Recession.

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If you went back to the 2008-2009 salary schedule, a teacher with a master’s degree and NBPTS certification could make (and be eligible for full pension with the correct number of years of service) an average of $64,750. And all veteran teachers would have received longevity pay above and beyond what the salary schedule said.

Now imagine if that same schedule was in play for teachers today and adjusted for inflation.

Oh, and now new teachers will not be able to have retiree health benefits.

They are already cutting into retirement benefits.

This Year Is Much Tougher Than Last Year For Teachers – And NOT Because Of The Students

Last year was tough. Mostly virtual. Felt like 36 weeks of intense professional development. With protocols and mandatory asynchronous time on classes, I maybe had about 40% of the “face” time that I would usually get in a typical school year. And the state still “tested” students.

But this year is tougher, and it is not the fault of any of the students. If anything, they have been the “adults in the rooms.” Most of them have shown that they want to be in the school setting absorbing all of the experiences of school: friends, socialization, hands on instruction, extracurricular activities, athletics, etc.

Yes, there is still a pandemic going on and rates of infection are high, but what has made this year tougher than last are the preventable circumstances educators find themselves in and the handling of the school system by those in power.

When class sizes are huge, there are not enough bus drivers and no crossing guards, and we have no new state budget to account for nonrecurring funds, then it is easy to see that adults are the biggest hurdle to schools.

Those are not students who are crying “indoctrination” and “NO CRT IN SCHOOLS!” Those are adults.

Those are not students who are deliberately holding up budget creation. Those are adults.

Those are not students making news with actions at school board meetings. Those are adults.

But those are students in the classrooms.

Do you really know how many unfilled positions are in our schools right now? According to TeachNC:

Now, look to see if there are enough subs to fill any vacancies that may occur on a daily basis.

Yes, this year is tougher than last year.

And it is not because of the pandemic. The findings of the LEANDRO court case happened long before the pandemic.

The pandemic exacerbated already strained conditions that have been fostered by politicians and opponents of fully funding education.

That’s the fault of the adults.

Dear Supt. Truitt, Merit Pay & Differential Pay Are Bad Ideas for North Carolina Public Education

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I do not know of a single instance in public education where merit pay actually has increased student achievement. Yet, many lawmakers not only advocate merit pay, but also differential pay based on the willingness “to take on additional tasks” like clubs, coaching, mentor, and chairing of departments.

First, look at merit pay as a whole. 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? Add that to the fact that teachers are teaching more classes and more students than in the past. That alone raises the stakes.

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, this GOP-led NCGA still does not seem to acknowledge that student growth is different than student test scores. Just look at the formula for the grading of schools still in place. The overreliance on test scores alone shows that a bottom line figure that can be interpreted in many ways stigmatizes schools where real student growth is occurring. Furthermore, growth is measured by an anomalous algorithm housed on the campus of a private entity. When some of our colleagues deal with students who experience more poverty, health issues, and other factors, then how can one say that those teachers do not “grow” those students when an arbitrary test score is all that is used to measure students? And all the growth that happens for students because of effective educators cannot be measured by a singular test.

Besides, if the NCGA thinks merit pay is effective, then I would question their 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 was that it pitted teachers against each other. Another problem is that Raleigh decided not to fund it any longer.

That reason alone makes the idea of giving bonuses for the passing of AP, IB, and CTE course tests to individual teachers a terrible idea. It is saying that some tests are more important than others. It is saying that some teachers have a harder job than others simply because of the title of the course. There’s more to it than that.

I commonly teach multiple sections of AP English Language and Composition. Some years I have over 150 AP students in my classes. That’s a lot. To say that all of them will have a passing grade on the AP test in May of the school year is ludicrous. The national pass rate is well below 60%. BUT THEY ALL LEARN AND GROW AS WRITERS.

While I may teach a “tough” course, to say that I alone deserve the credit for their passing the test is also ludicrous. So many other teachers in the lives of those students helped to hone the skill set needed to allow them to even be in the class to begin with. History teachers gave them context for a lot of their arguments. Science teachers and math teachers gave them a basis in logical thinking. Other English teachers gave them a foundation for writing well. And that’s just the tip of the metaphorical iceberg.

How would any lawmaker like to be subject to a system of merit pay as a legislator? Since each person in the NCGA does work that affects all of our state, maybe an evaluation should be conducted by people outside of each legislator’s district arbitrarily chosen without input and that legislator’s pay would be dependent on that report. What if those people were registered with another political party who supported LGBT rights?

The argument for differential pay does not hold much water either. It is very hard to quantify what teachers do for the betterment of the school community. On top of teaching more classes and more students now than when I first taught in NC, I serve on committees, perform duties, attend workshops while having to provide sub plans, work on recertification, coach academic teams, sponsor two clubs, chair a fantastic English department, and provide tutoring. Can you honestly put a market value (words you used) on that? Oh, that does not include the hours spent at home grading and planning.

If North Carolina paid teachers on an hourly wage at “market” value, then Raleigh would literally see almost every teacher’s income double, but that would tarnish our reputation for being in the lowest rung of states in compensating teachers. And if market value is something that some want to use as a guideline for teacher pay, then simply look at our teacher salaries in comparison to other states. In that context, we are literally driving the market down.

About Supt. Truitt’s “Operation Polaris” – It Must Include Some Things To Even Begin To Work

Last April, State Superintendent Catherine Truitt introduced her vision for DPI and public education in North Carolina.

Yesterday, she made another presentation about “Operation Polaris” to the state board.

It is called “Operation Polaris” in reference to the North Star. It alludes to the constant presence, the ever shining beacon, and the foundational staple of navigating the stars that Polaris has become.

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Of course it is bold. And it is a big step in the right direction when compared to Mark Johnson’s #NC2030 Plan. But it has to include steps to do the following in the eyes of this veteran teacher:

  • Lead with Leandro.
  • Put a nurse in every public school.
  • Put at least one reading specialist per grade in each school.
  • Put a social worker in each school.
  • Make all school meals free for students.
  • Invest in more professional development.
  • Include teachers in discussions about how to improve teaching and learning.
  • Restore graduate degree pay.
  • Restore due-process rights for teachers.
  • Pass a statewide school bond for construction and renovation of school buildings.

If those things are not addressed and remedied, then Operation Polaris will represent nothing more than an idealized goal that is light years away and can really only be fully viewed through a telescope

A Reading Assignment For Our NC Legislators — And There Will Be A Test

There is a reason that we read serious works of literature. And others can say why much better than I can.

  • “I cannot remember the books I’ve read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me.”― Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • “We read to know we are not alone.”— William Nicholson (often attributed to C.S. Lewis)
  • “A person who won’t read has no advantage over one who can’t read.“—Mark Twain (supposedly)
  • “Reading is a basic tool in the living of a good life. “– Mortimer Adler
  • “I cannot live without books.” – Thomas Jefferson
  • “Don’t join the book burners. Don’t be afraid to go in your library and read every book.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower
  • “Books are the quietest and most constant of friends: they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.” Charles W. Eliot
  • “We are drowning in information but starved for knowledge.” – John Naisbitt

When I teach AP English Literature and Composition, I attempt to put together a syllabus that offers students exposure to a wide variety of literary styles, but also a wide variety of experiences that show students that the lives led by characters often mimic the lives and trials that real people have faced or will encounter. Think of it as an archeological dig into history where we can actually feel, experience, struggle, and rejoice in life events that shape humanity and then use others experiences to guide our own actions and choices.

And we can learn from literature as well about what can work for our society and what has not.

Therefore, I put together a syllabus for the current iteration of the North Carolina Assembly this school year in the hopes that these elected officials might learn to understand how others see the same world through a very different lens than they do. Because if anything, literature has taught me that I have no monopoly on knowing how life “should” be lived.

I would never put many of these titles on a high school reading list, but if you are an elected official, you should be mature enough to read these works knowing that they carry weight, gravitas, and meaning.

Happy reading!

  • Most all of the plays of Shakespeare. I’ll just get that out of the way.
  • Moby Dick by Herman Melville – to learn how a maniacal, egotistical pursuit to something could very well lead to one’s downfall.
  • Crime and Punishment by Feodor Dostoyevsky – to learn that while some believe they are above the law of man, they are not above the law of God (or kharma).
  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury – to learn that the fear of free thought is the fear of other people’s gifts and views of the world.
  • The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood – to learn that the role of women in society should be fashioned not by traditional standards but by their own standards.
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee – to remember a time when racial divides ruled our land and still has its grips on our state.
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald – to learn that the American Dream is really elusive and that no matter what you do to obtain it, it is out of reach for some because so many variables are out of control.
  • Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck – to learn how many in society are relegated to stay in a socio-economic class because social mobility is harder than we really admit. Also, we should always remember that those who have developmental delays are as deserving as any other person.
  • The Overstory by Richard Powers – to remind ourselves that humans can be really bad for the environment.
  • Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy O’Toole – to learn that heroes come in all sizes and shapes and from all backgrounds.
  • July’s People by Nadine Gordimer – to reflect on a societal dynamics that hopefully will never exist
  • The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer – to learn that some who align themselves with the church or the teachings of Christ do so for personal profit and social gain.
  • Ulysses by James Joyce – to learn that one day can last a very long time.
  • Anything by Toni Morrison because she is Toni Morrison.
  • Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi – to see how our personal histories may be more intertwined then originally beleived
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain – to learn that people can learn about others and change their views about race and creed.
  • As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner – to see that multiple people can see the same event in so many different ways and have different versions of the truth. Oh, and Addie’s chapter is the best chapter in all of American literature, according to my erudite uncle, and lets us know that the dead still speak.
  • Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway – to learn that nature is more powerful than man, but that man is part of nature.
  • Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison – to gain perspective on what it is to be of a different race, ethnicity, or culture in this country or be brave enough to hear someone talk about it.
  • The Road by Cormac McCarthy – to see where we could be headed if we do not change our ways, and a reminder of what we would do for our children if we had to.
  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley – to see what happens when we forget cloud the lines between science and morality.
  • Life of Pi by Yann Martel – to realize that religion does not always define spirituality.
  • The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver – to understand that religious fanaticism can cloud our abilities to really help others
  • Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut – to learn that war is hell.
  • Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift – to learn that when objectively look at government we oftentimes see a true confederacy of dunces.
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon – to learn that those who seem different are not really disabled, but rather differently abled.
  • Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides – to learn that being transgender is not about an outward appearance, but rather an inner realization.

The test for all of these is in how you conduct yourselves afterwards. Your grade will be given next fall, probably around election time.

#2 In The Southeast? 39% Increase? Looking Again At Sen. Berger’s Misleading Press Shop

Senator Phil Berger’s “Press Shop” again been been parading a new post that grossly misrepresents NC’s ranking in the Southeast and the nation as far as its treatment of public education, specifically the money spent on K-12 schools, money per pupil spent, and average salaries.

He’s making reference to this July 2020 publication from the NEA which is the national teacher union of which NCAE is a state affiliate.

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And this is what Berger has highlighted in the past year and still is:

Here’s a few of the topline rankings for North Carolina:

· 2019–20 increase in K-12 funding: #1 in the Southeast (#7 in the country)

· 2019–20 increase in K-12 funding per student: #1 in the Southeast (#6 in the country)

· 2018–19 increase in public school instructional staff salaries: #1 in the Southeast (#4 in the country)

· 2018–19 increase in teacher salaries: #1 in the Southeast (#3 in the country)

What should be noted here is that these rankings really are based mostly on average change in dollars spent – not actual amounts. When the state ranks in the bottom part of the charts and then invests a little money, the percentage increase can look deceptively appealing. Berger calls it “high octane growth.”

Not really.

That report highlights almost 50 different “metrics” many for which it gives figures over the last two full years available: actual numbers from 2017-2018 and 2018 – 2019 and the change between those numbers.

Berger only cherry-picks a few of those metrics and avoids telling you the actual amounts of dollars spent – only the change.

And he neglects to tell you that those figures come from each state’s Department of Education. For NC, that would be DPI. To assume that each state uses the same variables and methods of calculation to come up with their state’s figures is foolhardy at best.

Just think of who has been in charge of DPI the last three-plus years. And think of who has been in charge of that guy.

The beginning of the NEA report sets some baselines on average teacher salary and expenditures per student.

Teacher Salary:

The national average public school teacher salary for 2018–19 was $62, 304. State average teacher salaries ranged from those in New York ($85, 889), California ($83, 059), and Massachusetts ($82, 042) at the high end to Mississippi ($45, 105), West Virginia ($47, 681) and New Mexico ($47, 826) at the low end.

The national average one-year change in public school teacher salaries from 2017–18 to 2018–19 was 2.5 percent. The largest one-year decrease was in Louisiana (−0.1%), and the largest one-year increase was in Washington (31.2%).

Expenditures per Student:

The national average per-student expenditure in 2018–19 based on fall enrollment was $12, 994, a gain of 2.7 percent from $12, 654 in 2017–18. The following states had the highest per-student expenditures: New York ($24, 749), New Jersey ($21, 326), and the District of Columbia ($20, 425). Idaho ($7, 459), Utah ($8, 150), and Arizona ($8, 722) had the lowest per-student expenditures.

Average teacher salary in the nation for 2018-2019: $62,304. North Carolina reported an average of $53,940.

Average per-student expenditure (on fall enrollment for 2018-2019) in the nation: $12,994. North Carolina reported an average of $10,165.

We aren’t even near the national average for either of those metrics.

Berger also makes it a point to highlight those selected “rankings” in the context of the Southeast. He doesn’t define exactly what the Southeast is but generally speaking it is a collection of 12 states.

SOUTHEAST REGION OF THE UNITED STATES - Printable handout | Teaching  Resources

The first thing to notice is that the four metrics mentioned in Berger’s press release deal with different school years. The first two come from the 2019-2020 school year. The second two come from the 2018-2019 school year. That’s important because the 2019-2020 numbers will not change for 2020-2021. Why? Berger made sure that the NCGA did not pass a new budget in NC forcing the schools to be funded with the same amounts as the last budget.

Now, take a deeper look at those “topline rankings.”

2019–20 increase in K-12 funding: #1 in the Southeast (#7 in the country)

That’s from page 57.

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That change from 2018-2019 to 2019-2020 for North Carolina was 5.15%. The fact that an extra $500 per year for students (based on attendance) would create that percentage change tells you more about the less than average amount we as a state spend per student. Ranking #7 in that metric for percent change when it is still almost $3,000 below the national average is really nothing to brag about.

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· 2019–20 increase in K-12 funding per student: #1 in the Southeast (#6 in the country)

That’s from page 56.

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It’s the same in this respect as the one before except in this one the funding per student is based on actual enrollment and not who actually attended.

That change from 2018-2019 to 2019-2020 for North Carolina was 4.60%. Ranking #7 in that metric for percent change when it is still almost $3,000 below the national average again is really nothing to brag about.

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· 2018–19 increase in public school instructional staff salaries: #1 in the Southeast (#4 in the country)

That’s from page 25.

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Yes, NC is #4 in the increase of AVERAGE salary in the nation for instructional staff.

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But when you already have a below average salary and raise it even a little, you can claim an average percentage that really is dwarfed by the actual raise.

In this metric, NC supposedly increased the average salary by $2,706. Still very much below the national average.

By over $10,000.

· 2018–19 increase in teacher salaries: #1 in the Southeast (#3 in the country)

That’s from page 26.

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Yes, NC is #4 in the increase of AVERAGE salary in the nation for teachers.

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We went from 32 to 30. And still well below the national average.

But something is a little odd here: the average salary of instructional staff and the average salary of teachers in NC is reported to be the same. How can different metrics show the same result? No other state in the Southeast even shows the same salary and nationally North Carolina is one of 8 states in the nation to do that. Just compare pages 25 and 26.

It seems that DPI reports an average salary of a teacher to include the averages of principals and AP and other people who are not actual classroom teachers but fit in a broader category of “Educators.” That changes the numbers. In essence, the average teacher salary that is touted in North Carolina takes in consideration administration and other certified staff at the school site. Not just teachers.

No one else in the Southeast measures average teacher salary in the same way. That misrepresents NC and it is intentional.

And of the eight states that do that type of reporting, NC is by far the lowest ranked of the bunch.

NEA can only report what the state gives them. So, DPI gives numbers that DPI knows uses different calculations in some metrics and then the state powers-that-be who control DPI can then even further manipulate how those numbers can be interpreted.

Go back to those four metrics that Berger highlights in his post without fully explaining them. They “list” NC as #1 in the Southeast. But that’s based on percent increase from year to year.

Look at actual numbers for the 2018-2019 numbers reported for the 12 southeastern states.

In average salary for instructional staff, North Carolina ranks 7th out of 12.

In average teacher salary, North Carolina ranks 2nd out of 12. BUT THIS IS MISLEADING. Look at the average pay for teachers and instructional staff for NC. They are the same. NC is the only one of the 12 on that list that puts all certified staff in that category so in relation to all of the other states listed, NC’s is inflated. ADD TO THAT, NC USES LOCAL SUPPLEMENTS IN ITS CALCULATIONS. Therefore, NC is taking credit for an uneven local supplement system that is controlled by the LEA’s, not the state.

That second place finish was because of performance-enhancing measures. And don’t forget that NC has eliminated graduate teacher pay bumps and longevity pay.

In the case of expenditures per student, NC ranked 8th out of 12.

Ask Berger to explain all of that.