On February 8th, 2014, the Charlotte Observer posted a special op-ed on its website and published it the next day in the actual paper. It was a viewpoint penned by two political figures whose actions have helped shape the policies that confine public education in North Carolina today.
Those two people were Sen. Chad Barefoot and Rep. Rob Bryan.
Three years later, Sen. Barefoot sits on a powerful education committee. Bryan was defeated in his last election, but his brainchild of reform, North Carolina’s Achievement School District, is still slated to take over five schools in 2018-2019.
In their piece entitled “How to Upgrade Teacher Pay,” both men begin an outline of “reform” that they have spent coloring these last three years.
Maybe it is worth revisiting their words and determining through reflection whether they have made progress on their goals to upgrade teacher pay and other needs for public education.
Or if they have not.
The text of the op-ed can be found here: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/opinion/op-ed/article9095660.html. However, it will be referenced throughout this posting.
Barefoot and Bryan begin,
“In the book “That Used To Be Us,” Thomas L. Friedman, a liberal columnist for the New York Times, and Michael Mandelbaum, a professor of American foreign policy at John Hopkins University, argue that America has fallen behind in the world it invented. And although many of the book’s proposals have turned out to be stumbling blocks rather than solutions, the authors are right about one thing – we are falling behind in the world we invented – especially in education.”
It must be noted that it was very hard to not simply summarize Barefoot and Bryan’s op-ed by almost using the same exact wording they did. Consider this possibility.
“In the op-ed “How to Upgrade Teacher Pay,” Sen. Chad Barefoot, a conservative state senator, and Rep. Rob Bryan, another state lawmaker, argue that North Carolina has fallen behind in the country. And although many of the op-ed’s claims have turned out to be stumbling blocks rather than solutions, the authors are right about one thing – we are falling behind in the country – especially in teacher pay.”
First, it is interesting that Barefoot and Bryan reference Friedman who actually argued in his book The World is Flat that America still has a lot of vitality in the world economy because it still leads the world in patents and patent applications. That is a sign of innovation and creativity and curiosity, the very skills that students can learn in a variety of classes, especially the arts which seem to be something that Barefoot holds in contempt considering his recent HB13 maneuvers.
Secondly, it is odd that they refer to Friedman and Mandelbaum’s book to begin their own argument. They seem to only agree with one thing about the claims of the book and dismiss the rest. But that is not totally surprising considering that identifying Friedman as a liberal already puts anything that Friedman says in a “false” light.
“Today, the status quo has become a dangerous position. Technology and industry are changing more quickly than ever, and large government bureaucracy has prevented our public policy from being able to keep up.”
Large government bureaucracy preventing public policy? Really? And who were the two authors of this op-ed? Those would be two people in government who helped to push so much reform down the throats of North Carolina including a law called HB2 which took away local powers of the very city that published the op-ed like passing LGBTQ protections and setting its own minimum wage for work done for the city government.
“We are aware of North Carolina’s national teacher pay ranking and agree that it is a problem. But we would like to argue that behind the low ranking are structural concerns with our statewide base salary schedule that are more significant to individual teachers than our ranking against the national average. Making it our goal to reach the national average in teacher pay is just that – an average goal. What we need is a new salary schedule aligned with a comprehensive vision for the future.”
Now three years later with the abolishment of graduate degree pay bumps for newer teachers, no due-process laws for newer teachers, school grading systems that are more arbitrary, low average per pupil expenditures, uncontrolled charter school growth, unproven vouchers, and a myriad of other “reforms,” it might be worth relooking over those words again because what has happened over the three years since this op-ed has been anything but a “comprehensive vision for the future.”
It’s really been more of an attack on the public school system to justify some of the privatization efforts that the NC General Assembly is allowing to happen.
“Studies show that teachers improve most dramatically during their first five years. But under the current salary schedule, teachers do not see their first step increase until year seven. That means for six years they improve without any reward. This is a problem.”
Which studies? And nothing says that they still do not improve after six years. That argument almost dismisses the worth of veteran teachers. However, it is easy to see that beginning teachers did need to see increases in salaries earlier to remain in the profession. But that’s all the new salary schedule did. Barefoot and Bryan never talk about retaining veteran teachers. The new salary schedule surely does not encourage veteran teachers to stay.
They go on to state,
“The current salary schedule also fails to enable schools to compete in our region. Surrounding states have surpassed North Carolina’s starting salaries, enabling them to recruit our graduates with higher starting pay. Most also increase teachers’ salaries earlier in their career, while under the current salary schedule it can take a North Carolina teacher 16 years to reach $40,000. That’s crazy. This encourages high turnover. It is not attractive.”
What is even crazier is that the new salary schedule that Barefoot and Bryan helped to fashion in these last three years not only does get beginning teachers to the maximum salary more quickly, it creates a lower ceiling for maximum salary.
Once those teachers get to that level in year 16, they may never see another pay bump on the salary schedule.
This past election, Pat McCrory ran on the platform of having raised teacher pay to an average of $50,000. He was using very distorted logic. You can read this posting and see if what McCrory claims was real or if it was fake because Barefoot and Bryan are using the same argument (https://caffeinatedrage.com/2016/07/17/the-ignoramasaurus-rex-how-gov-mccrorys-claim-on-average-teacher-pay-is-not-really-real/).
And like Bryan, McCrory lost his reelection bid.
“We also know that the top indicator of a child’s academic success is having an excellent teacher. But under the current salary schedule our teachers receive no reward for their excellence and taking on more responsibility.”
And under the current system we as a state are seeing a seismic drop in teacher candidates in our university system. In fact, NC’s ability to recruit and retain teachers has gotten so bad even with this new salary schedule that Barefoot and Bryan helped to establish that this past month five bills were introduced in the NCGA which are aimed at getting more teachers to come to North Carolina.
All five of them are sponsored by Sen. Chad Barefoot (http://www.wral.com/barefoot-backs-bills-to-boost-teacher-recruitment/16638866/).
Apparently the new salary structure that was to discourage high turnover and make things more attractive simply did not work.
Then here comes the ethos,
“You see, we were both raised by N.C. educators. Chad’s mom is a former public school teacher who has dedicated her life to early childhood development and currently teaches in our state’s Pre-K program. His younger sister is a second grade teacher in her third year (who has never seen a step increase). Rob’s mom was a public school 4th grade teacher for 12 years and is now the Educational Director for DARE America. His sister also taught in North Carolina’s public school system. Rob even taught in the classroom for two years with Teach for America.”
If Barefoot and Bryan had such roots in public education, then why have their actions for the last three years since the printing of this op-ed done more harm to public education than help? Barefoot’s mother and sister teach/taught young students as did Bryan’s mother. If they were so in tune with helping teachers of these students, then why are things like the following happening?
“RALEIGH – Durham elementary school students took over Sen. Chad Barefoot’s office on Wednesday for an art lesson and protest designed to urge state lawmakers to increase education funding (http://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/education/article148484449.html#storylink=cpy).
The pool of irony is getting deeper. And murkier.
But how Barefoot and Bryan end their op-ed from 2014 really frames their hypocrisy because it talks about rewarding teachers without really paying them respect.
“Recruiting great teachers means paying teachers better at the beginning of their career. Retaining great teachers means getting them to a professional and competitive wage as quickly as possible while allowing them to grow in their careers. Rewarding great teachers means recognizing their excellence and value to the classroom and compensating them for it.
We acknowledge that being able to say that we pay our teachers at the national average will make politicians everywhere feel good. But what we risk is leaving in place the status quo – structural problems that prevent us from treating our teachers with respect. We should want a salary schedule that attracts the best and brightest and reenergizes our educators who have been neglected by the existing salary schedule.”
It would be a lesson worthwhile for Barefoot and Bryan to realize that there is a very sharp difference between rewarding teachers and respecting teachers. Why? Because…
- 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.
- 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.
Ironically, Barefoot and Bryan use the term “status quo” twice as a premise on which to build their sanctimonious claims and give themselves permission to pursue the policies they have since the publication of this op-ed.
If anything, they are the status quo.