Marching For Students & Rallying for Respect

respect

West Virginia.

Oklahoma.

Kentucky.

In those states, teachers are not “walking out” and confronting lawmakers because of singular issues like salary, benefits, or working conditions.

They are marching for respect.

What lawmakers in those states are learning very quickly is that there is a difference between rewarding teachers and respecting the teaching profession.

A reward is something that is given in recognition of someone’s service, effort, and/or achievement. One could get a reward for doing well on a project or completing a task. Some could look at a bonus check as a reward for accomplishing a goal.

However, this teacher wants more than a reward from my General Assembly. A lot of teachers want more than a reward. We want respect for all of our public school teachers.

To have respect is to have a deep feeling of admiration for someone because of his abilities, qualities, and value. It is understanding that someone is important and should be taken seriously.

In this highly contested election year, many will be fooled by lawmakers wanting to “reward” the teaching profession with bills that might offer more pay or actually fund a mandate and mistake that for respect. Respect goes much deeper.

I am very glad to see that NCAE will call on NC lawmakers to “Respect Public Education” on May 16th when the NCGA reconvenes because it brought to mind that there are many stark differences between rewards and respect.

  • A reward sounds like something that can be used as a political ploy. Respect needs no political prompt.
  • A reward could be a one-time gift. Respect is continuous and grows.
  • A reward is a reaction to something. Respect guides your actions.
  • A reward is giving teachers a small bonus that gets taxed by the state and has no effect on retirement. Respect would be to bring salaries for teachers at least to the national average.
  • A reward would be to give a school some sort of distinction because it met a measurement achievement. Respect would be honoring teachers because of actual student growth in the face of factors out of the schools’ control.
  • A reward would be providing more textbooks. Respect would be to keep growing per-pupil expenditures to ensure that all students got the resources they need.
  • A reward would be giving a one-time pay hike to teachers. Respect would be to make sure they kept getting raises throughout their careers on a fair salary schedule and restoring longevity pay.
  • A reward may be speaking highly of principals. Respect would be not ever allowing our average principal salary to rank next to last in the nation for so long.
  • A reward may be to alter the teacher evaluation system. Respect would be to restore due-process rights for all teachers.
  • A reward may be to give more professional development for teachers. Respect would be restoring pay bumps for graduate degrees.

We have seen what a lack of respect for teachers has done to our state in a short amount of time. Where we once were considered a flagship state system, we are now in a state of regression. So while I will not decline a “reward” of a pay raise, I will tell my lawmakers that affording more respect to teachers, administrators, and teacher assistants could go a long in helping stop the attrition of teaching talent in North Carolina.

Why? Because if you respect something you will show it through your actions, not just your campaign speeches and vague promises.

And respect can work both ways. For those lawmakers who view public education as a priority and view teachers with respect, I will not only reward them with my vote, I would show my respect by supporting them throughout their terms.

But most importantly, don’t reward me for teaching. Respect me for being a teacher.

About Sen. Berger’s Words Concerning Teacher Bonuses and North Korea

berger

Sen. Phil Berger’s words in reference to the teacher merit bonuses based on 2017 scores reflect the growing willful ignorance that is being bred in secret chambers in Raleigh amongst GOP stalwarts.

In fact, his statement is so preposterous and outlandish that the only thing keeping this teacher from laughing out loud is the fact that Berger’s reasoning is more the norm than the exception for the state’s most powerful lawmaker.

There are a couple of places in the statement that immediately seem incongruous. North Korea strikes me as more of a communistic totalitarian state. The government controls everything. Actually, the government owns everything. When I think of a socialist country, I tend to think of countries whose economies provide large “welfare” and social services to all citizens like Norway, Finland, Denmark, Belgium, or even Ireland. Many talk about the “socialized” medicine in Canada and England. Putting North Korea in that context seems a little extreme. Besides, many socialized countries have education systems in which the teaching profession is much more highly revered than here.

Oh, and Sen. Berger also seemed to forget that North Carolina is a “right-to-work” state. That means there are no unions. NCAE is not a union. It’s an association of education professionals. If Berger really wants to see how teacher unions work, then he should go to Chicago and New York City. Now those are unions.

But it’s the word “bonus” that seems to be most spun by Sen. Berger.

I got a bonus. Got one last year. This year’s bonus was larger as the cap was higher. When any of my students from my multiple sections of Advanced Placement English Language and Composition scores a passing grade of “3” or higher, I receive a bonus of $50 per student. If lots of my students pass, that bonus gets bigger.

And the bigger the bonuses get, the more I feel that it just exacerbates the real problem: continued lack of respect for all public school teachers. In fact, I do not even consider the “bonus” a bonus. To me it’s just academic “blood money.”

One thing about bonuses is that they are highly taxed. Ironically, almost 40% of my bonus was taken out by three different taxes.

25% of it went to the federal government. Some of what the feds will get may be paying for Medicaid in other states, which is ironic because we didn’t expand it here in NC. Sen. Berger was a champion in not expanding Medicaid in NC.

Almost 8% went to Social Security, which at my age may not be around when I am old enough to receive it.

Almost 6% went to the state. That’s actually kind of funny to think about because the state gave me money to give back to them. And the same day I received the bonus, I got in the mail a tax statement about how much money I “made” from a tax refund last year will be taxed.

Last year, I did not keep the bonus. I wrote a check to my school because the school needed it more.

I did the same thing this year along with helping some kids with special needs. And don’t think I do not need the money. I do – still have two kids, car payment, mortgage, therapy for a special needs child, etc.

It is hard for me to consider taking this money, especially when I know why the bonus is given and the fact that it doesn’t really belong to me because so many more people at my school helped my students pass my particular AP test.

I know that there are other teachers I know well who will receive bonuses for their students passing AP tests. If they keep that money, that’s their business. They need the money. They have families and needs. I will not in any way ask them what they will do with it.

There are many reasons for my opinion, and all are rooted in principles and respect, but if I had a chance to tell Sen. Berger why I feel that his statement is rooted in political “newspeak,” I would talk about the following:

  1. I do not need a carrot stick. If getting a bonus to get students to perform better really works, then this should have been done a long time ago. It’s funny to think of rewarding me for my students working harder and not other teachers who do absolute wonders in the classroom that do not get measured.
  2. This creates an atmosphere of competition. I did not get into teaching so that I could compete with my fellow teachers and see who makes more money, but rather collaborate with them.
  3. I did not take those tests. The students took the tests. Students need to be able to harness their own motivation and hopefully I can couple it with my motivation. Yet many of these students are taking eight classes, participating in extracurricular activities, and helping families. Plus, with all of the testing that we put on students that takes away from actual instructional time is staggering. Sometimes, I am amazed at what our students actually accomplish in light of the gravity they are placed under.
  4. I was not the only person who taught them. To say that the success of my students on the AP English Language and Composition Test solely rested on my performance is ludicrous. While the cliché’ “It takes a village” might be overused, I do believe that the entire school’s faculty and staff has something to do with not only my students’ success, but my own.
  5. Bonus pay does not work. It’s like merit pay. There is really no evidence that it helps public schools. Remember the ABC’s from the late 1990’s and the early 2000’s? Yep, I do too. So should Sen. Berger.
  6. The state does not have a reputation of fully funding their initiatives. Again, remember the ABC’s? I still do. Those bonuses dried up because they were not fully funded. And after the bonuses are taken away in the future (which they probably will), will the expectations of student performance be lessened? History says that it will not.
  7. My class is not more important as others. They all matter.
  8. This sets a dangerous precedent in measuring students and teachers. 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.
  9. This is a reward, but far from showing respect. Many teachers got a raise in the past four years, but again that is an “average” raise. Bonuses in this case seem more like “hush money” and a means to brag that lawmakers seem to care about teacher compensation. But if Berger really respected teachers, he would do more for them than give “bonuses” to a few of them. He would reward them with salaries comparable with the rest of the nation. He would restore due-process rights for new teachers, he would give back graduate degree pay, he would stop measuring schools with a defeatist model, and he would restore longevity pay.
  10. It’s pure grandstanding. There is uncontrolled charter school growth. There are loosened sanctions on for-profit virtual schools. There are massive amount of money going to Opportunity Grants which will no doubt fill the coffers of schools that do not even teach the same curriculum as those teachers you want to “reward” with these bonuses. There is a lawsuit between our puppet state superintendent and the state school board Berger helped appoint, and an ISD district still out there. There is the lowered per pupil expenditure. All of this affects the very schools that Berger thinks a bonus will help to hide.

Sen. Berger thinks that bonuses are part of the solution. Rather, it’s a symptom of a bigger problem.

But if he wants to make comparisons with North Korea, then he might want to look at his own actions in promoting unconstitutional mandates that gerrymander districts to ensure certain people remain in power, that suppress minority voters so they do not have a voice, and that attempt to rig a judicial election cycle so that two of the three branches of the state government are under one thumb.

And there are so many excellent teachers who will never receive a bonus because the work they do in advancing kids can never be measured by the eyes of the narrow-minded who have no idea of what happens inside of a classroom.

Like Phil Berger.

Can Berger, Moore, or Barefoot Explain This? Concerning School Funding Levels Pre and Post Recession

Today the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities released a report on school funding in states that compared current funding with pre-recession levels.

Entitled “A Punishing Decade for School Funding”, the authors begin with this:

“Public investment in K-12 schools — crucial for communities to thrive and the U.S. economy to offer broad opportunity — has declined dramatically in a number of states over the last decade.  Worse, some of the deepest-cutting states have also cut income tax rates, weakening their main revenue source for supporting schools. 

Most states cut school funding after the recession hit, and it took years for states to restore their funding to pre-recession levels.  In 2015, the latest year for which comprehensive spending data are available from the U.S. Census Bureau, 29 states were still providing less total school funding per student than they were in 2008” (https://www.cbpp.org/research/state-budget-and-tax/a-punishing-decade-for-school-funding).

Yes, North Carolina was one of those states.

In fact, North Carolina was mentioned in several instances.

“As of the current 2017-18 school year, at least 12 states have cut “general” or “formula” funding — the primary form of state support for elementary and secondary schools — by 7 percent or more per student over the last decade, according to a survey we conducted using state budget documents.”

North Carolina was one of those states.

“Seven of those 12 — Arizona, Idaho, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Oklahoma — enacted income tax rate cuts costing tens or hundreds of millions of dollars each year rather than restore education funding.” 

There we are again.

“Not only did many states avoid raising new revenue after the recession hit, but some enacted large tax cuts, further reducing revenues. Seven of the 12 states with the biggest cuts in general school funding since 2008 ― Arizona, Idaho, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Oklahoma ― have also cut income tax rates in recent years.”

And, again.

“In order to accurately compare past and current education spending, North Carolina’s numbers do not include funding for one-time bonuses and increases for salaries and benefits for education personnel.”

For those who may argue that there were bonuses and “salary increases,” there is a lot more to that.  Consider the following:

https://caffeinatedrage.com/2016/07/14/open-letter-to-gov-mccrory-and-the-ncga-concerning-bonus-pay-for-teachers/

https://caffeinatedrage.com/2016/07/17/the-ignoramasaurus-rex-how-gov-mccrorys-claim-on-average-teacher-pay-is-not-really-real/

And from the footnotes:

“This analysis examines the 12 states with the deepest cuts in “formula” or general K-12 education funding as identified in CBPP’s 2016 paper “After a Nearly a Decade, School Investments Still Way Down in Some States.” These states are Alabama, Arizona, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, and West Virginia.  While Wisconsin appeared among the 12 deepest-cutting states in our 2016 paper, that state has been providing school districts with an increasingly large amount of general funding outside of the state formula.  Including this non-formula general aid, Wisconsin’s cuts since 2007-08 are not in the top 12.”

And for good measure, there’s a nice chart.

11-29-17sfp-f8

Won’t take long to see North Carolina in that list.

In the red.

Almost 20%.

Wow.

Open Letter to the NCGA Concerning Bonus Pay for Teachers

Dear members of the North Carolina General Assembly,

This may not be a popular opinion, but it is one that is a matter of principle to me.

I will be receiving the maximum in bonuses this year for having a certain number of students pass the AP English Language and Composition Exam for the 2016-2017. Many of you may think that it will continue to somewhat ameliorate tensions with public school teachers like me. I do not think it will at all. I feel that it just exacerbates the real problem: continued lack of respect for all public school teachers.

I am not going to keep my bonus, again. To me it’s just academic “blood money.”

I have read about this provision of bonus money frequently in the summer. It’s in the budget that former Gov. McCrory signed last year before he became the first sitting governor in NC history to not get reelected when he/she sought to, a provision adding bonus pay for teachers of Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, CTE, and 3rd grade. As the News and Observer reported last year (http://www.newsobserver.com/news/politics-government/state-politics/article89154042.html),

“Advanced Placement course teachers will receive $50 bonuses for each of their students who score 3 or higher on AP exams. Teachers of International Baccalaureate Diploma Program courses will receive a $50 bonus for each student who scores 4 or better on IB exams.

Those bonuses are capped at $2,000 per teacher per year. Scores from 2015-16 and 2016-17 will be used. Bonuses are to be paid in January 2017 and January 2018.

Teachers whose students earn approved industry certifications or credentials will win bonuses of $25 or $50 per student, depending on the value of the credential as determined by the state Department of Commerce. The bonuses are capped at $2,000 per teacher per year.”

In fact, I would receive more money in bonuses if there was no cap. But unlike class sizes, you have capped the bonuses.

But, as I said, I will not keep the bonus, again. Part of it will be taxed. The state will get some of it back. The feds will get some of it. Some of what the feds will get may be paying for Medicaid in other states, which is ironic because we didn’t expand it here in NC. None of it will go to my retirement plan.

The rest I will give back to my school. And don’t think I do not need the money. I do – still have two kids, car payment, mortgage, therapy for a special needs child, etc.

But I can’t make it this way again, especially when I know why the bonus is given and the fact that it doesn’t really belong to me because so many more people at my school helped my students pass my particular AP test, one that does not even have any influence on their transcript.

I know that there are other teachers I know well who will receive bonuses for their students passing AP tests. If they keep that money, that’s their business. They need the money. They have families and needs. I will not in any way ask them what they will do with it.

There are many reasons for my opinion, and all are rooted in principles and respect, but I will attempt to explain them clearly and concisely.

  1. I do not need a carrot stick. If getting a bonus to get students to perform better really works, then this should have been done a long time ago. But it does not. I do not perform better because of a bonus. I am not selling anything. I would like my students and parents to think that I work just as hard for all of my students in all of my classes because I am a teacher.
  2. This creates an atmosphere of competition. I did not get into teaching so that I could compete with my fellow teachers and see who makes more money, but rather collaborate with them. Giving some teachers a chance to make bonuses and not others is a dangerous precedent.
  3. I did not take those tests. The students took the tests. Sometimes I wish that I could take the tests for them, but if you are paying me more money to have students become more motivated, then that is just misplaced priorities. These students are young adults. Some vote; most drive; many have jobs; many pay taxes. They need to be able to harness their own motivation and hopefully I can couple it with my motivation.
    But many of these students are taking eight classes, participating in extracurricular activities, and helping families. Plus with all of the testing that we put on students that takes away from actual instructional time is staggering. Sometimes, I am amazed at what our students actually accomplish in light of the gravity they are placed under.
  4. I was not the only person who taught them. To say that the success of my students on the AP English Language and Composition Test solely rested on my performance is ludicrous. While the cliché’ “It takes a village” might be overused, I do believe that the entire school’sfaculty and staff has something to do with not only my students’ success, but my own. The content, study skills, time management, discipline that students must exercise to pass the AP test certainly did not all come from me. Everyone on staff, every coach, every PTSA volunteer has helped to remove obstacles for students so they could achieve.
  5. Bonus pay does not work. It’s like merit pay. There is really no evidence that it helps public schools. Remember the ABC’s from the late 1990’s and the early 2000’s? Yep, I do too.
  6. The state does not have a reputation of fully funding their initiatives. Again, remember the ABC’s? I still do. Those bonuses dried up because they were not fully funded. And after the bonuses are taken away in the future (which they probably will), will the expectations of student performance be lessened? History says that it will not.
  7. My class is not more important as others. They all matter. I wrote Rep. Stam once concerning his views on merit pay and what subjects were more important than others,

“If some subjects matter more than others, then why do schools weigh all classes the same on a transcript? If some subjects matter more than others, then why do we teach all of those subjects? I certainly feel that as an English teacher, the need to teach reading and writing skills is imperative to success in any endeavor that a student wishes to pursue after graduation. In fact, what teachers in any subject area are trained to do is to not just impart knowledge, but treat every student as an individual with unique learning styles, abilities, and aptitudes in a manner that lets each student grow as a person, one who can create and make his/her own choices. “

  1. This sets a dangerous precedent in measuring students and teachers. As I stated in my aforementioned letter to Rep. Stam,

“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, the GOP-led NCGA still does not seem to acknowledge that student growth is different than student test scores. When some of our colleagues deal with students who experience more poverty, health issues, and other factors, then how can you say that those teachers do not “grow” those students when an arbitrary test score is all that is used to measure students?”

  1. This is a reward, but far from showing respect. Many teachers got a raise in the past four years, but again that is an “average” raise. Bonuses in this case seem more like “hush money” and a means to brag that you seem to care about teacher compensation. But if you really respected teachers, you would do more for them than give “bonuses” to a few of them. You would reward them with salaries comparable with the rest of the nation. You would restore due-process rights for new teachers, you would give back graduate degree pay, you would stop measuring schools with a defeatist model, and you would restore longevity pay.
  2. It’s pure electioneering. There is uncontrolled charter school growth. There are loosened sanctions on for-profit virtual schools. There are massive amount of money going to Opportunity Grants which will no doubt fill the coffers of schools that do not even teach the same curriculum as those teachers you want to “reward” with these bonuses. There is HB2, lawsuits between our puppet state superintendent and the state school board you appointed, and an ASD district still out there. There is the lowered per pupil expenditure. All of this affects the very schools that you think a bonus will help to hide.

These bonuses are not part of the solution. They are a symptom of a bigger problem. And while I will defend each person who receives this bonus his/her right to keep it and spend it any way he/she chooses, I plan to give mine to my school, one of many that you have not fully resourced.

Stuart Egan, NBCT
West Forsyth High School