Open Letter to the Registered Voter Who Believes in Public Schools

Note: I have combed through all of my op-eds, posts, rants, and lists and compiled from them what follows as a last posting to help get people to vote next Tuesday for pro-public education candidates.

The current General Assembly and governor are very scared of public school teachers and those who support them. Without their support in this next election cycle, many candidates for office simply cannot win. That’s why the governor and NCGA have touted so many “band-aid” style electioneering schemes to make them appear pro-public education.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

When the GOP won control of both houses in the North Carolina General Assembly in the elections of 2010, it was the first time that the Republicans had that sort of power since 1896. Add to that the election of Pat McCrory as governor in 2012, and the GOP has been able to run through multiple pieces of legislation that have literally changed a once progressive state into one of regression. From the Voter ID law to HB2 to fast tracking fracking to neglecting coal ash pools, the powers that-now-be have furthered an agenda that has simply been exclusionary, discriminatory, and narrow-minded.

And nowhere is that more evident than the treatment of public education.

Make no mistake. The GOP-led General Assembly has been using a deliberate playbook that other states have seen implemented in various ways. Look at Ohio and New Orleans and their for-profit charter school implementation. Look at New York State and the Opt-Out Movement against standardized testing.  Look at Florida and its Jeb Bush school grading system. In fact, look anywhere in the country and you will see a variety of “reform” movements that are not really meant to “reform” public schools, but rather re-form public schools in an image of a profit making enterprise that excludes the very students, teachers, and communities that rely on the public schools to help as the Rev. William Barber would say “create the public.”

North Carolina’s situation may be no different than what other states are experiencing, but how our politicians have proceeded in their attempt to dismantle public education is worth noting. The list below is not by any means complete, but it paints a clear picture.

  • Removal of due-process rights – This keeps teachers from being able to advocate for schools.
  • Graduate Degree Pay Bumps Removed – Removed a means for teachers to invest in their profession.
  • Standard 6 – Teacher evaluation protocols are arbitrary at best
  • Push for Merit Pay – Never has worked in education. Besides, all teachers assume duties outside of teaching.
  • “Average” Raises – Average and Actual do not mean the same thing.
  • Attacks on Teacher Advocacy Groups – specifically NCAE.
  • Revolving Door of Standardized Tests – And many of the tests are made and graded by for-profit entities.
  • Less Money Spent per Pupil – NC still has not approached pre-recession levels.
  • Remove Caps on Class Sizes – Teachers are teaching more students and sometimes more class sections.
  • Jeb Bush School Grading System – This actually only shows how poverty affects public education.
  • Cutting Teacher Assistants – Hurts elementary kids the most.
  • Opportunity Grants – A Voucher scheme that profits private and religious schools.
  • Unregulated growth of charter schools – No empirical data shows any improvement in student achievement with charter schools.
  • Virtual Schools – These are hemorrhaging in enrollment.
  • Achievement School Districts – Again, an idea that “profits” only those who take taxpayer money and has no successful track record no matter what state they have been established (lookout Georgia!).
  • Reduction of Teacher Candidates in Colleges – We are lacking in numbers to help supply the next generation of teachers for a growing state.
  • Elimination of Teaching Fellows Program – Another way to discourage bright students from becoming teachers.

So what can be done? Actually lots. And it all starts in the ballot boxes.

Remember, North Carolina has 100 counties, each with a county public school system. According to the Labor and Economic Analysis Division of the NC Dept. of Commerce, the public schools are at least the second-largest employers in nearly 90 of them—and the largest employer, period, in over 65. That means teachers represent a base for most communities, the public school system.  And they are strong in numbers. Add to that their supporters. The numbers get bigger.

If public education matters to you at all, then please understand the damage this General Assembly and governor have done to our public schools and communities. The number of teachers leaving the state or the profession is staggering. It is has given rise to a new state slogan: “North Carolina – First in Teacher Flight.” If our communities are to recover and thrive, then this trend must stop.

Do your homework and see which candidates truly support our public schools.

Educate yourself, then please vote.

vote

Wardolf and Statler Eating Moonpies and Drinking RC Colas While Talking About Public Education and Politics

Simply put, there exist some famous pairs that when mentioning one you must mention the other. Think of peanut butter and jelly, R2-D2 and C3PO, Ernie and Bert, Wardolf and Statler. There’s eggs and bacon, cookies and milk, Itchy and Scratchy, and Moonpies and RC Cola.

Here in North Carolina, one cannot keep public education and politics from colliding in the same conversation. With a huge election upon us and a focus on public education, to make these two mutually exclusive is like acting as if one does not exist at all while talking about the other.

They are a pair.

In March of 2015, a bill was (SB480) introduced by Senators Wells, Brock, Wade, and Soucek called the Uniform Political Activity/Employees Bill that would limit political activity by school employees, supposedly while they were on the job. However, the language was vague enough to allow some to interpret it as not allowing teachers to speak out on any subject that could be perceived as having a political bent or having any link to politics.

Wear Red for Ed? That might be a criminal offense in some interpretations of this bill. But how could a teacher not be political when talking about his or her job and job conditions in this particular political atmosphere in North Carolina?

How could I teach AP English Language and Composition, which is a rhetoric and argumentation course, without talking about politics? The GOP debates in the primaries could literally carry the class when it comes to instructing on effective and ineffective ways to argue.

While bill is not law (yet), it does bring up some insight about the power of teachers’ voices.

Almost two years ago, I wrote an op-ed about the power of teacher voices for the Winston-Salem Journal.  In it I said,

“North Carolina has 100 counties, each with a county public school system. According to the Labor and Economic Analysis Division of the NC Dept. of Commerce, the public schools are at least the second-largest employers in nearly 90 of them—and the largest employer, period, in 66. That means teachers represent a base for most communities, the public school system.  And they are strong in numbers. “

I can see how one would not want teachers to spout out personal political dogma to students. That’s not our job. But we do have a duty to advocate for our students and when that advocating comes in the form of dialogue with politicians, then it might be perceived as political.

Today, I was visited by Bill McNeill from WXII, the NBC affiliate of the Piedmont Triad. He specifically came by to talk about a post from this blog and how it was picked up by The Washington Post’s “The Answer Sheet”.

And he asked the question about whether what I was writing about was political in nature. Take a look for yourself in the video link below.

http://www.wxii12.com/news/west-forsyth-teachers-blog-draws-national-attention/39653634

Whether if I said those things in a meeting at school would be an offense in the way SB480 was worded is up for interpretation, but it’s not law right now.

However, I did officially “sign out” of school for an entire 90 period to take personal leave in order to do the interview. I was not being paid for my job while being interviewed. The camera man did take some shots of me teaching after the fact.

The interview itself took 20 minutes at most. I gave 70 minutes of my time back to the school system for free, I guess.

And that’s not unusual. I give multiple 70 blocks of time to the public school system on a weekly basis outside of my contracted time.  Most every teacher does. Shoot, think of coaches for high school sports.

Please remember that in November.