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.

North Carolina’s New State Fish – The Red Herring

North Carolina has the dogwood as the state flower, the cardinal as the state bird, the plott hound as the state dog, the Fraser Fir as the state Christmas tree, and the emerald as the state gem. We also have the channel bass (red drum) as the state fish.

But one of those need to change. I think the red herring should the state fish because I have seen many more of those these past few years in the Old North State.

red herring

Red herring actually is a smoked herring fish, turned brown/red because of curing by salt and the smoking process. But it also refers to the logical fallacy of using something that really is not an important issue to stop people from noticing or thinking about something really important (merriam-webster.com).

This practice of using a red herring to draw attention away from these really important issues is something that many current members of the North Carolina General Assembly have done very well.

Remember HB2? Rep. Tim Moore and then Lt. Gov. Dan Forest both spoke of the need to “protect our women and children” from the invasive Charlotte city ordinance that would allow transgender people access to the public bathrooms for the gender they identified with.

A special legislative session was called in 2016 in defense of our loved ones in order to pass sweeping discriminatory laws against the LGBT community. So strong they hoped was the scent of the red herring that they also passed two other vital really important pieces of legislation.

The first was the removal of rights for all citizens to bring to state court any discrimination suits against any employer for termination based on factors such as race, gender, sexual identity, etc. The second was the restriction placed on cities to make private contractors to pay a wage in line with local economy standards. That allowed private businesses to bypass local authorities and underpay labor for a higher profit.

Remember the Voter ID law? When the voter ID law was passed those who sponsored the bill said that it was to protect the election process from voter fraud.

There’s your red herring – voter fraud. Except there was only one (maybe three) documented case of voter fraud in the state that could be used as evidence. That’s right; it’s practically nonexistent. But when a fish smells, it draws attention. What really was important is that this voter ID law actually hurts voter turnout for many minority voters, many of whom are in rural areas and are from lower income levels. Those same people tend to vote democratic.

And then we recently got HB324: Ensuring Dignity & Nondiscrimination/Schools.

A diversionary bill that screams loudly and has absolutely no bite or validity. And just like the HB2 bill, there have absolutely been no documented cases for which there is even the need for such a bill.

As this bill goes through the veto process and takes up even more time distracting from real issues, this NCGA has ignored the LEANDRO court mandates, stalled in setting a new budget, and allowed for schools to run on recurring fund levels established years ago while sitting on budget surpluses and entertaining cutting corporate taxes even more.

Red herrings.

The Required Assignment (LEANDRO) The NCGA Refuses To Complete

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:

And there is a new due date:

Malcolm’s Minions – A Chance to be Ultra-Cool And Help Some People

On September 25th, the Down Syndrome Association of Greater Winston-Salem will be hosting its annual Buddy Walk.

If you can’t walk with us at West Forsyth High School, then walk where you can. Still helps people!

For those who are not familiar with the Buddy Walk, here is the blurb from the DSAGWS.org website:

The Buddy Walk® was created by the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS) in 1995 to celebrate Down Syndrome Awareness Month in October and to promote awareness, acceptance and inclusion of individuals with Down syndrome.

It also raises funds for the DSAGWS to help with programs and services for families who have members with special needs.

We are hoping that Buddy Walk will again be held at West Forsyth High School next year where it has been held for the last eight years.

While you may not be able to hang out with the cutest red-head with blue eyes who just happens to be genetically enhanced for this event, you can still help by sponsoring.

Malcolm’s team is called Malcolm’s Minions. The link is https://dsagws.ezeventsolutions.com/Buddywalk/MalcolmsMinions.

Thanks for considering.

And if you need a little more motivation, then:

This $500 Raise Would Cost You So Much More If You Took It

Remember that this state has not had a new budget in three years, has one of the nation’s most miserly unemployment benefit systems, never expanded Medicaid benefits financed by the federal government, still maintains the lowest minimum wage legally possible, and is one of a few states to outlaw collective bargaining rights for public employees.

It also is both an “At Will” and “Right to Work” state and possesses the lowest corporate tax rate of any state that has one.

And there is fear of a teacher’s association.

Do any of you remember this billboard sprinkled around the state a few years ago?

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It was one of the many times certain interest groups tried to weaken NCAE.  In this instance the Civitas Institute tried to lure teachers to “buy” back their membership through a website. It showed NCAE members how to withdraw their membership from NCAE and make $450 because that is what they would not be spending in dues.

Well, in a time where the teacher pipeline has been drying up because of this state’s disrespect for the teaching profession, there is a new push to offer a “raise” by weakening the teaching profession even more.

The Civitas Institute and the John Locke Foundation really are one in the same: Art Pope financed, ALEC aligned entities.

This is the same entity that supplies a high number of people in the sham “indoctrination” task force to make sure that students in NC public schools do not become influenced by progressive views of society coming from teachers.

Here is a list of poeple on that task force.

15 members and of course the LT. Gov himself.

That’s 16.

And over a third of them are directly linked to the same libertarian think tank founded by Art Pope that wants teachers to “LeaveNCAE.”

Two of those people are very involved in pushing a narrative that charter schools in NC do not promote segregation. You can look here and here.

Another member, Rep. David Willis, has been featured by the John Locke Foundation.

That’s almost half of the people on the list if you include Robinson.

It is rather funny that they spend so much time and money to try and get people to not be a part of NCAE. So why do it? Because they are scared of what a group of public school teachers can do when they come together and act to protect public education – organizations just like NCAE.

That alone tells me that North Carolina desperately needs the North Carolina Association of Educators. Yet there are so many other reasons.

When it comes to fighting for due-process rights, against unfair evaluation systems, for better pay, for resources in schools, against vouchers, and for fully funded schools, NCAE has been a tireless leader.

And the North Carolina Association of Educators is needed now more than ever.

There’s a group in Raleigh trying to blindly reformulate how public schools are funded.

There are more studies coming out suggesting that charter schools are increasing segregation amongst students.

There is an unfunded class size mandate that the state legislature refuses to deal with.

There is a LEANDRO court decision that the NCGA refuses to acknowledge and act upon.

And we need to keep fighting because if there is any voice that the North Carolina General Assembly is trying to silence, it is the collective voice of educators in our public schools. NCAE will not let that happen.

When business leaders can literally craft legislation concerning principal pay without input from educators, then we need NCAE.

When per pupil expenditures are lower now than before the recession when adjusted for inflation, then we need NCAE.

When legislators can call special sessions to craft surreptitious policies, then we need NCAE.

When we have politicians bent on using vouchers and unregulated charter school growth to promote privatization, then we need NCAE.

When schools are being measured by amorphous standardized tests, then we need NCAE.

When we have a school performance grading system that does nothing more than show how poverty affects schools, then we need NCAE.

When teachers feel like they cannot speak up for schools and students because of fear of professional retribution, then we need NCAE.

Not billboards.

NC Teachers (And All Public Employees) Should Have Collective Bargaining Rights

Rob Schofield posted a piece in April of 2019 on NC Policy Watch that reported on an effort for all of North Carolina’s public employees to have collective bargaining rights.

More than 600,000 public employees throughout North Carolina would obtain a right that’s been denied to them for 60 years under a pair companion bills introduced in the North Carolina House and Senate and highlighted at a press event this morning in Raleigh. House Bill 710 and Senate Bill 575 would repeal North Carolina General Statute section 95-98, the six-decade-old ban on collective bargaining by public employees.

At an event in the state Legislative Building this morning, an array of public officials and advocates decried the ban as both a Jim Crow-era violation of basic human rights and an impediment to the delivery of safe, affordable and efficient public services. North Carolina public employees — including state, county and municipal workers like teachers, police officers, and firefighters — “deserve a seat at the table” said Senator Wiley Nickel (D-Wake). North Carolina is one of only three states with such a statutory ban, Nickel added — a fact he linked to low retention and high turnover rates among public workers at all levels.

The ban itself was established in the Jim Crow-era. It literally is the last holdover as far as laws are concerned. And NC is one of seven states that makes collective bargaining illegal.

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What those bills reminded this teacher of was an op-ed by a young teacher in Durham named Matt Tyler who gave a very good argument on why teachers should push for collective bargaining rights. In “Teachers should take aim at North Carolina’s collective bargaining laws“, Tyler writes about the 2018 march and rally on May 16th. He stated,

“State legislators like Rep. Mark Brody – who last week called marching teachers “union thugs” – pit unions (which don’t exist in North Carolina) against quality education. To the contrary, states that allow for collective bargaining are less likely to see teachers’ strikes. This is a result, as Agustina Paglayan writes in the Washington Post, of a collective bargaining system that is responsive to distraught educators’ legitimate concerns. Because teachers in collective bargaining states have a legitimized outlet to voice their concerns, they do not need to strike to be heard. Indeed, collective bargaining agreements oftentimes impose stiff penalties for strikes. In other words, collective bargaining laws provide a relief valve for tensions between the government and public-sector employees.”

Ironic, that on the map above only seven states outlaw collective bargaining rights.

Eleven allow for them to be used.

32 require them to be used. North Carolina should be number 33.

Two School Shootings & “Our” Kids

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.

Today, there was a shooting there and a student was killed.

Every school in the district went on lock-down. The shooter remained at large in the hours after the shooting and concern that other schools might be targeted was very real.

There is sadness for the victim and his family. There is sadness for the school “family” as an event like this is life-altering in so many ways.

There was another school shooting this 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.

On a day where our General Assembly still has made no progress toward a new budget that amply funds public schools, made no movement to fulfill the dictates of the LEANDRO court decision, but passed a red-herring bill that targets a non-existing problem of Critical Race Theory, it is easy to feel some anger on this day toward our elected officials.

Yes, 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 today and New Hanover High School on Monday 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.