Like every other year, 2021 has been a rather contentious, perplexing, and frustrating year for public school advocates. There is simply a lot working against us.
However, that only means that we keep fighting for public schools. As the new year arrives, it might be worthwhile to review the top ten public education issues that surround North Carolina’s public school system.
And they are not listed in any particular order as all of them have an incredible amount of gravity.
1. LEANDRO And the NCGA’s Willful Ignorance In Funding
Imagine being a teacher who gave a required assignment to a student for a class that had to be taken in order to graduate based on criteria set by governing bodies. The student specifically chose to be in your section and even lobbied parents and administration to be in that class promising to do everything required to pass the class and do the work to the best of his/her ability.
The assignment is clearly laid out, expectations articulated, rubrics provided, modeling given, and multiple tutoring opportunities afforded.
The assignment is not a newly developed one. It has been required of every class that this teacher has taught since that teacher’s career started. In fact, it is stipulated by the school system – even the state.
Yet the student has not turned it in. Not even a part of it.
In fact, the student is literally bragging to other students and even adults that he will not do it, but rather create his own “assignment” and will grade it as he sees fit and turn it in when he wants to – if ever.
And there will be no penalties, late grades, or disciplanary actions. His parents have threatened the school system that if the student receives a failing grade or an incomplete – actually anything below a top grade – then they will sue and publicize how badly their child has been treated by the public school system. They will also go after the teacher’s certificate and even the school’s accreditation.
Not surprisingly, assignment was actually given years ago.
Now imagine the student being the powers that be in the North Carolina General Assembly and the assignment is a state budget that fully funds the public school system.
Here’s the assignment:
Here’s the rubric:
2. Treatment of Veteran Teachers
Here is the salary schedule that was in place for the last school year and was in place at the beginning of this one:
For those who are not teachers, make sure to pay attention to years 15-24.
10 years of the same.
There is no longevity pay during these years as well.
Someone who has been teaching for 24 years makes the same as someone who has been teaching for 15.
Amounts toward retirement will be the same.
3. New Budget
It only took three years, but did we not just pass a new budget with raises?
Not much of a raise.
AND TEN FROZEN YEARS.
If anyone in Raleigh cares to explain how those 10 frozen years of pay is supposed to attract teachers to the profession, then speak up. But it looks blatantly like a ploy to keep people from being career educators.
4. School Board Meetings
This past October, the Washington Post printed a letter it uncovered which serves as a template for many fighting against mask mandates in public forums – forums like contrentious school board meetings.
Here is a copy:
The letter is full of links to other material to “use” in confronting public officials.
Then this letter from the U.S. Attorney General appeared that same week.
So ubiquitously contentious have school board meetings become across the country that Saturday Night Live featured a rather accurate parody of one in its season premiere this past fall.
5. 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.
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.
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.
6. School Safety
There is a high school less than one half of a mile from my home where the majority of high school students in my neighborhood attend. In fact, there are parents in my neighborhood who graduated from this same school. They are now sending and will send their kids there.
On Friday nights in the fall if I am not attending a football game at my school, I can hear their band playing their school’s fight song. And they always have a crowd; they are the defending state champions.
I personally know teachers there – wonderful people who love those kids no matter what. Every high school in the county has students who are friends with students at this school. Winston-Salem still has that “big town” feeling to it and in a system that allows for students to choose among high schools, there exist many relationships that are not confined by school zones.
This school is simply an excellent school full of tradition, integrity, and pride.
This school year, there was a shooting there and a student was killed.
There was another school shooting that same week at a high school in Wilmington. It is the same school where my mother-in-law graduated. That school also has a proud history and lots of tradition.
That’s two shootings in North Carolina schools in the second week of the school year in the middle of a pandemic where the spread of COVID among high school students is at an all-time high.
We need more wrap-around services in our schools. We need more nurses, counselors, and social workers. We need to do something about overcrowded schools and these large class sizes. We need to address having more people in our schools to work with students. We need to talk about guns and mental health.
But we need to really start looking at all schools as “our” schools. That means actively looking at every school we support with our constitutional obligation as a state as the very school that teaches “our” children.
What happened at Mt. Tabor High School and New Hanover High School are not isolated events. If the years since Columbine has shown our country anything, it is that no school is immune from acts of violence and tragedy.
I do not know many people who would not try and move heaven and earth if it meant the well-being and safety of their own children.
The students at Mt. Tabor and New Hanover are “our” kids. The educators at those schools teach “our” kids. The public servants who went to these campuses were there for “our” kids.
Loving “our” kids means more than just thoughts and prayers.
Loving “our” kids requires taking action and making investments in schools that do not always start out with a bottom line financially.
7. Learning Loss Vs. Leadership Loss
This was the argument – numbers in a data table.
To State Superintendent Catherine Truitt, last school year had been a “lost year of learning.”
Dismiss the irony that a person who was a chancellor of an online college that had really no “in-person learning” itself said the above.
Dismiss the fact that that data table left so many questions that need to be answered.
- So, how many of these students live in poverty?
- How many already had circumstances in their lives that impeded their ability to engage with curriculum that just got exacerbated by the government’s response to the pandemic?
- How many of these students live in households that were not helped by lack of Medicaid expansion, connectivity, or even adequate help from the worst state unemployment system in the country?
The very person who has been called for local school systems to open up school buildings during a pandemic literally sat on stages and offered newsworthy quotes with people who years ago made it harder for today’s public schools to actually open safely.
But back to this “learning loss” and all of these students failing.
Just imagine what those numbers would be if all teachers had treated grading and delivery of curriculum with the same expectations that we did before the pandemic.
I and other teachers altered everything in my approach to teaching – how we grade, what and when I accept work, how we communicate to and with students and parents, and how plan instruction.
We found more grace and more willingness and more love.
We changed the lens through which we were viewing the school year.
There was no historical precedent to go by. Nothing standard at all.
Truitt was literally showing us that she did not know that and that is why she was trying to measure student achievement without acknowledging student realities.
We had to reinvent process and delivery as well as focus more on the non academic aspects of what schools do. Mrs. Truitt was not willing to acknowledge that. She gave us a data table and stressed that we give standardized tests to students to measure “learning loss.”
But “learning loss” is nothing compared to “leadership loss.”
A leader cannot forget this pandemic and its effects on students, teachers, and schools outside of the classroom.
It means that nothing was learned from it.
And we have as a nation and as a state “lost” enough.
8.TeachNC And Failing to Adequately Address Vacancies
It launched in August of 2019. A superfluous program that even the idea of would have never been needed if North Carolina had not done so much damage to the teaching profession in the last ten years.
It’s called Teach North Carolina.
Originally, TeachNC was introduced at that February 2019 private dinner that not many teachers got to attend. Mark Johnson presented an initiative that took money from the Gates Foundation, Belk Foundation, and Coastal Credit Union and pays BEST NC and Teach.org to develop a website for what Kelly Hinchcliffe on WRAL.com described as a:
“public-private teacher appreciation campaign to better align the image of the teaching profession with the fruitful, fulfilling career it is and develop a statewide teacher-recruitment system to attract the next generation of North Carolina teachers.”
The price tag for it? $750K. For what? To show “appreciation” for the teaching profession and present it as a viable option for a career in North Carolina.
And on December 27th, 2021 during the winter break before schools reconvened, this is how well TeachNC is helping to fill those vacancies.
That 8794 figure was just for classroom teacher vacancies.
Overall vacancies were much worse.
And just for perspective, this was the number of vacancies on September 22nd, 2021:
9. Charter Schools And The Courts
Two specific articles worth looking at which chronicle the courts declaring that charter schools are not public schools:
10. An Indoctrination (CRT) Task Force & Its Links To One Entity
Yesterday Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson “officially” named the members of his “indoctrination” task force to make sure that students in NC public schools do not become influenced by progressive views of society coming from teachers.
If you have not read about the proceedings of the task force and its lack of transparency, this is a good place to explore.
That article also included the released list of those on the task force.
15 members and of course the LT. Gov himself.
And over a third of them are directly linked to the same libertarian think tank founded by Art Pope.
Another member, Rep. David Willis, has been featured by the John Locke Foundation.
Another member, Dr. Gregory Cizek, was once appointed to a high position by Betsy DeVos.
That’s already half of the people on the list if you include Robinson.
The John Locke Foundation also has no love for NCAE, the largest teacher representative organization in the state, so it shouldn’t be ironic that the director of the Classroom Teachers Association is on the task force as well.
This is really no transparent task force by any stretch of the imagination. It’s a political operative group that acts without oversight and influenced by a single organization that has attacked public education in North Carolina for years. They are just trying to use the guise of “good intentions” and policy.
And not doing a good job of it.