The Reward of Having Respect

In a recent report from the Lumberton NC paper The Robesonian (“McCrory: Former teacher inspired pat proposal”), Sarah Willets quoted Gov. McCrory as being inspired by a former teacher to suggest a pay hike for teachers in this election year. He said:

“Ruth Revels was one of those teachers who had a lasting impact and influence on me. I will always remember her passion and strong belief in each one of her students. In honor of Mrs. Revels who recently passed away, I announced a plan to reward teachers for their hard work and raise average pay to over $50,000 plus benefits.”

When someone remembers a teacher’s impact on his life, that teacher must have been special. In fact, there are many Mrs. Revels in this state and many more are still embarking on the teaching profession.

But I am stuck on one word – “reward”.

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 governor and his General Assembly. This teacher wants 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.

I was very glad to see that NCAE called on NC lawmakers to “Restore Respect” during Teacher Appreciation Week 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.
  • 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.

North Carolina’s Playbook to Dismantle Public Education

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 exploring.

Specifically, the last five year period in North Carolina has been a calculated attempt at undermining public schools with over twenty different actions that have been deliberately crafted and executed along three different fronts: actions against teachers, actions against public schools, and actions to deceive the public.

Actions Against Teachers

  1. Teacher Pay – A recent WRAL report and documentary highlighted that in NC, teacher pay has dropped 13% in the past 15 years when adjusted for inflation (http://www.wral.com/after-inflation-nc-teacher-pay-has-dropped-13-in-past-15-years/15624302/). That is astounding when one considers that we are supposedly rebounding from the Great Recession. Yes, this 15 year period started with democrats in place, but it has been exacerbated by GOP control. Salary schedules were frozen and then revamped to isolate raises to increments of five+ years. As surrounding states have continued to increase pay for teachers, NC has stagnated into the bottom tier in regards to teacher pay.
  2. Removal of due-process rights – One of the first items that the GOP controlled General Assembly attempted to pass was the removal of due-process right for all teachers. Thanks to NCAE, the courts decided that it would be a breach of contract for veteran teachers who had already obtained career-status. But that did not cover newer teachers who will not have the chance to gain career status and receive due process rights.

What gets lost in the conversation with the public is that due-process rights are a protective measure for students and schools. Teachers need to know that they can speak up against harsh conditions or bad policies without repercussions. Teachers who are not protected by due-process will not be as willing to speak out because of fear.

  1. Graduate Degree Pay Bumps Removed – Because advanced degree pay is abolished, many potential teachers will never enter the field because that is the only way to receive a sizable salary increase to help raise a family or afford to stay in the profession. It also cripples graduate programs in the state university system because obtaining a graduate degree for new teachers would place not only more debt on teachers, but there is no monetary reward to actually getting it.
  2. The Top 25% to receive bonus – One measure that was eventually taken off the table was that each district was to choose 25% of its teachers to be eligible to receive a bonus if they were willing to give up their career status which is commonly known as tenure. Simply put, it was hush money to keep veteran teachers from speaking out when schools and students needed it. To remove “tenure” is to remove the ability for a teacher to fight wrongful termination. In a Right-To-Work state, due process rights are the only protection against wrongful termination when teachers advocate for schools, like the teacher who is writing this very piece.
  3. Standard 6 – In North Carolina, we have a teacher evaluation system that has an unproven record of accurately measuring a teacher’s effectiveness. The amorphous Standard 6 for many teachers includes a VAM called Assessment of Student Work.

I personally teach multiple sections of AP English Language and Composition and am subject to the Assessment of Student Work (ASW). I go through a process in which I submit student samples that must prove whether those students are showing ample growth.

In June of 2015, I uploaded my documents in the state’s system and had to wait until November to get results. The less than specific comments from the unknown assessor(s) were contradictory at best. They included:

Alignment

Al 1 The evidence does not align to the chosen objective.

Al 4 All of the Timelapse Artifacts in this Evidence Collection align to the chosen objectives.

Growth

Gr 1 Student growth is apparent in all Timelapse Artifacts.

Gr 2 Student growth is apparent between two points in time.

Gr 3 Student growth is not apparent between two points in time.

Gr 4 Student growth samples show achievement but not growth.

Gr 9 Evidence is clear/easily accessible

Gr 10 Evidence is not clear/not easily accessible

Narrative Context

NC 1 Narrative Context addresses all of the key questions and supports understanding of the evidence.

NC 4 Narrative Context does not address one or more of the key questions.

 

And these comments did not correspond to any specific part of my submission. In fact, I am more confused about the process than ever before. It took over five months for someone who may not have one-fifth of my experience in the classroom to communicate this to me. If this is supposed to supply me with the tools to help guide my future teaching, then I would have to say that this would be highly insufficient, maybe even “unbest.”

  1. Push for Merit Pay – 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?

Those legislators who push for merit pay do not see effective public schools as collaborative communities, but as 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.

  1. “Average” Raises – In the long session of 2014, the NC General Assembly raised salaries for teachers in certain experience brackets that allowed them to say that an “average” salary for teachers was increased by over 7%. They called it a “historic raise.” However, if you divided the amount of money used in these “historic” raises by the number of teachers who “received” them, it would probably amount to about $270 per teacher.

That historic raise was funded in part by eliminating teachers’ longevity pay. Similar to an annual bonus, this is something that all state employees in North Carolina — except, now, for teachers — gain as a reward for continued service. The budget rolled that money into teachers’ salaries and labeled it as a raise. That’s like me stealing money out of your wallet and then presenting it to you as a gift.

  1. Health Insurance and Benefits – Simply put, health benefits are requiring more out-of-pocket expenditures, higher deductibles, and fewer benefits. There is also talk of pushing legislation that will take away retirement health benefits for those who enter the profession now.

 

 

  1. Attacks on Teacher Advocacy Groups (NCAE) – Seen as a union and therefore must be destroyed, the North Carolina Association of Educators has been incredibly instrumental in bringing unconstitutional legislation to light and carrying out legal battles to help public schools. In the last few years, the automatic deduction of paychecks to pay dues to NCAE was disallowed by the General Assembly, creating a logistical hurdle for people and the NCAE to properly transfer funds for membership.
  2. Revolving Door of Standardized Tests – Like other states, we have too many. In my years as a North Carolina teacher (1997-1999, 2005-2015), I have endured the Standard Course of Study, the NC ABC’s, AYP’s, and Common Core. Each initiative has been replaced by a supposedly better curricular path that allegedly makes all previous curriculum standards inferior and obsolete. And with each of these initiatives comes new tests that are graded differently than previous ones and are “converted” into data points to rank student achievement and teacher effectiveness. Such a revolving door makes the ability to measure data historically absolutely ridiculous.

Actions Against Schools

  1. Less Money Spent per Pupil – The argument that Gov. McCrory and the GOP-led General Assembly have made repeatedly is that they are spending more on public education now than ever before. And they are correct. We do spend more total money now than before the recession hit. But that is a simplified and spun claim because North Carolina has had a tremendous population increase and the need to educate more students.

Let me use an analogy. Say in 2008, a school district had 1000 students in its school system and spent 10 million dollars in its budget to educate them. That’s a 10,000 per pupil expenditure. Now in 2015, that same district has 1500 students and the school system is spending 11.5 million to educate them. According to Raleigh’s claims, that district is spending more total dollars now than in 2008 on education, but the per-pupil expenditure has gone down significantly to over 2300 dollars per student or 23percent.

  1. Remove Caps on Class Sizes – There is a suggested formula in allotting teachers to schools based on the number of students per class, but that cap was removed. House Bill 112 allowed the state to remove class size requirements while still allowing monies from the state to be allocated based on the suggested formula.

Some districts have taken to move away from the 6/7 period day to block scheduling. Take my own district for example, the Winston-Salem / Forsyth County Schools. When I started ten years ago, I taught five classes with a cap of 30 students. With the block system in place, I now teach six classes in a school year with no cap. The math is simple: more students per teacher.

  1. Amorphous Terms – North Carolina uses a lot of amorphous terms like “student test scores”, “student achievement”, and “graduation rates”, all of which are amongf the most nebulous terms in public education today.

When speaking of “test scores”, we need to agree about which test scores we are referring to and if they have relevance to the actual curriculum. Since the early 2000’s we have endured No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top initiatives that have flooded our public schools with mandatory testing that never really precisely showed how “students achieved.” It almost boggles the mind to see how much instructional time is lost just administering local tests to see how students may perform on state tests that may be declared invalid with new education initiatives. Even as I write, most states are debating on how they may or may not leave behind the Common Core Standards and replace them with their own. Know what that means? Yep. More tests.

“Graduation rate” might be one of the most constantly redefined terms in public schools. Does it mean how many students graduate in four years? Five years? At least finish a GED program or a diploma in a community college? Actually, it depends on whom you ask and when you ask. But with the NC State Board of Education’s decision to go to a ten-point grading scale in all high schools instead of the seven-point scale used in many districts, the odds of students passing courses dramatically increased because the bar to pass was set lower.

  1. Jeb Bush School Grading System – This letter grading system used by the state literally shows how poverty in our state affects student achievement. What the state proved with this grading system is that it is ignoring the very students who need the most help — not just in the classroom, but with basic needs such as early childhood programs and health-care accessibility. These performance grades also show that schools with smaller class sizes and more individualized instruction are more successful, a fact that lawmakers willfully ignore when it comes to funding our schools to avoid overcrowding.
  2. Cutting Teacher Assistants – Sen. Tom Apodaca said when this legislation was introduced, “We always believe that having a classroom teacher in a classroom is the most important thing we can do. Reducing class sizes, we feel, will give us better results for the students.” The irony in this statement is glaring. Fewer teacher assistants for early grades especially limit what can be accomplished when teachers are facing more cuts in resources and more students in each classroom.

 

Actions To Deceive The Public

  1. Opportunity Grants – Opportunity Grant legislation is like the trophy in the case for the GOP establishment in Raleigh. It is a symbol of “their” commitment to school choice for low-income families. But that claim is nothing but a red-herring.

Simply put, it is a voucher system that actually leaves low-income families without many choices because most private schools which have good track records have too-high tuition rates and do not bus students. Furthermore, the number of private schools receiving monies from the Opportunity Grants who identify themselves as religiously affiliated is well over 80 percent according to the NC State Educational Assistance Authority. Those religious schools are not tested the way public schools are and do not have the oversight that public schools have. Furthermore, it allows tax dollars to go to entities that already receive monetary benefits because they are tax free churches.

  1. Charter Schools – Charter school growth in North Carolina has been aided by the fact that many of the legislators who have created a favorable environment for charter benefit somehow, someway from them. Many charters abuse the lack of oversight and financial cloudiness and simply do not benefit students.

Especially in rural areas, uncontrolled charter school growth has been detrimental to local public schools. When small school districts lose numbers of students to charter schools, they also lose the ability to petition for adequate funds in the system that NC uses to finance schools ; the financial impact can be overwhelming. In Haywood County, Central Elementary School was closed because of enrollment loss to a charter school that is now on a list to be recommended for closing.

  1. Virtual Schools – There are two virtual academies in NC. Both are run by for-profit entities based out of state. While this approach may work for some students who need such avenues, the withdrawal rates of students in privately-run virtual schools in NC are staggering according to the Department of Public Instruction.
  2. Achievement School Districts – Teach For America Alumnus Rep. Rob Bryan has crafted a piece of legislation that has been rammed through the General Assembly which will create ASD’s in NC. Most egregious is that it was crafted secretly. Rather than having a public debate about how to best help our “failing” schools with our own proven resources, Rep. Bryan chose to surreptitiously strategize and plan a takeover of schools. ASD’s have not worked in Tennessee. They will not work in North Carolina except for those who make money from them.
  3. Reduction of Teacher Candidates in Colleges – At last report, teaching candidate percentages in undergraduate programs in the UNC system has fallen by over 30% in the last five years. This is just an indication of the damage done to secure a future generation of teachers here in North Carolina.
  4. Elimination of Teaching Fellows Program – Once regarded as a model to recruit the best and brightest to become teachers and stay in North Carolina was abolished because of “cost”.

Overall, this has been North Carolina’s playbook. And those in power in Raleigh have used it effectively. However, there are some outcomes that do bode well for public school advocates for now and the future.

  • Teachers are beginning to “stay and fight” rather than find other employment.
  • NCAE has been able to win many decisions in the court system.
  • North Carolina is in the middle of a huge election year and teachers as well as public school advocates will surely vote.
  • The national spotlight placed on North Carolina in response to the voter-ID laws and HB2 are only adding pressure to the powers that be to reconsider what they have done.
  • Veteran teachers who still have due-process rights are using them to advocate for schools.

I only hope that the game changes so that a playbook for returning our public schools back to the public will be implemented.

 

Stuart Egan, NBCT
West Forsyth High School

Open Letter from my son Malcolm to Sen. Berger – Teacher Assistants are vital

This letter was constructed this past November, but I never shared with any blog, news organization, or other media. But I did send it to Sen. Berger on behalf of my red-headed little man. The talk of teacher assistants being slashed from budgets is still being bantered about and with the long session of the NC General Assembly approaching, I thought I would allow Malcolm to talk about his amazing teacher assistant.

For those who know Malcolm, you can attest for his infectious personality, unfiltered passion for sports, and a love of life. The fact that he has an extra 21st chromosome doesn’t define him. He could care less, especially if it involves basketball. We literally play it at least two hours a day during this spring break on his specially adjusted goal that Grandpa Ed made him.

If you know Malcolm, then you know McK, his big sister and probably the best teacher of life he has ever had. When it comes to helping Malcolm be the best he can be, she is the MVP.She certainly has taught me much.

Yeah, she has red hair too. So does my wife.

Even the dog is kind of red-headed.

I don’t really have any hair.

Enjoy.

 

 

Dear Senator Berger,

My name is Malcolm. I am 8-years-old. I have my mom’s red hair and her blue eyes. I like sports like my dad. I am in second grade at Sherwood Forest Elementary School in Winston-Salem.

Oh, and I happen to also have Down Syndrome, but I don’t think about that much. It does not define me. What defines me is that I am like every other kid here at school. I want to learn and be part of this world. And I need helpers along the way.

I asked my daddy to help write this for me. I do know my numbers and letters and my vocabulary grows all the time. But I am still getting trying to get enough muscle control to write. So I asked my daddy to help me. He is a teacher for big kids. He loves his job.

I have a teacher at school and there is someone who helps her. She is the teacher assistant. I do not learn as much if that teacher assistant is not there. She helps me to become more independent. She keeps an eye on me and helps me learn. In fact, I hug her every day. And I do not hug many people.

I was hurt that you said you do not want to have any teacher assistants in North Carolina anymore. That means that you don’t want me to learn as much as I do now. That means that you don’t care if I don’t get the attention and help that I need to be better.

My daddy showed me the video of your speech at Best NC’s legislative meeting (https://www.ednc.org/2015/11/03/speech-by-sen-phil-berger-raises-questions-about-the-future-of-teacher-assistants-schools-of-education-in-nc/). I really was hurt by your comparing teacher assistants to manual typewriters. It seemed like you were calling them names. I asked my daddy what it meant and he said the following,

“Well buddy, Sen. Berger thinks teacher assistants are a waste of money, especially when it comes to his misguided and narrow-minded interpretation of education reform. When Senator Berger speaks about what ails education he forgets that it all starts in Raleigh on West Jones Street. Many like him have taken actions to weaken public education so that they can brand their own form of reform like charter schools and vouchers to help a few make profits from public school money.

“But I think he doesn’t realize that his comparison of teacher assistants to manual typewriters might not be far from the truth, if you look at it from a different angle.

“Manual typewriters make a lasting impression. Every key stroke makes an indelible mark on each piece of paper that passes through it. No need for electricity. No need for software programs. No need for internet. No need for printers. It does it all by itself, totally capable of working in any room or environment. It doesn’t even need to be updated. In a day when all electronics are built to become disposable and dependent on some other source of energy, those manual typewriters stand tests of time and use.

“Manual typewriters are authentic and remind us of days when there were no shortcuts to producing something genuine. Do you know that when I teach my high school students all of those novels and poems, that many of them were composed on a manual typewriter? And the very same words those famous writers wrote and typed are still read today.

“Sure, we have computers today, but the keyboard is the same. The letters and numbers are in the same arrangement. But if you walk in many offices today, there are still some manual typewriters, because there are jobs that only a manual typewriter can do best that cannot be replicated. That sounds a lot like teacher assistants if you think about it. They are still needed because they perform duties that no one else can fulfill.”

I think my daddy is right. Only my teacher assistant can do the things that she does. And I am successful because of her. I don’t need unnamed and uncited research to know it either. I experience it each day.

I asked my daddy if he thought there was any chance that you would actually read my letter.

“Probably not, son. He will most likely have one of his assistants read it for him. According to a Feb. 13th, 2015 Asheville Citizen Times report by Gary Robertson (“NC legislative leaders’ staffs keep growing”), Sen. Berger has over a dozen assistants working for him alone. Over half of them command at least 100K in salary. In fact, he’s got more assistants than your whole school does.”

Wow. That doesn’t seem right.

Senator, you also said that we should take away our schools of education. I think it is rather odd that you want to take away schools in order to make schools better. That doesn’t make any sense. Even a second grader can tell you that.

 

Sincerely,

Malcolm
Exceptional Child in Public Schools
Son of Stuart Egan, a public school teacher