Actually, Teachers Have 1st Amendment Rights As Well

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedophold of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” – First Amendment

In that one amendment is:

  • Separation of state and religion,
  • Freedom of speech,
  • Right to assemble peaceably,
  • Petitioning the Government.

Those rights were exercised on May 16th in Raleigh when thousands of teachers and school employees and advocates marched and rallied for public education in North Carolina. Yet North Carolina has a General Assembly which is supposed to uphold the tenets of the constitution trying to pass a bill to place “In God We Trust” in each public school filled with lawmakers decrying the assembly of teachers on the first day of the NCGA’s session.

And those people who assembled at that march and rally were really quite peaceful.

There have been rumors of school administrators who told teachers to not participate in the rally and to take down any references to the march and rally from personal social media accounts. Whether those are isolated incidents or widespread, the fact that many teachers felt discouraged from speaking out on “a school day” is antithetical to one of the most important duties we as educators have: to advocate for students and students.

Last Thursday an editorial appeared on WRAL.com calling out school administrators on not overtly siding with teachers in their efforts to affect change for public schools (https://www.wral.com/editorial-n-c-school-administrators-should-side-with-schools-not-politicians/17560064/).

It referenced a letter from the NC Association of School Administrators to the General Assembly sent the day before the march and rally.

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The editorial did not mince words.

“If the association had been doing its job, teachers wouldn’t have been left with no other choice but to RELUCTANTLY leave their classes to be heard in Raleigh. The letter is another example of a state association choosing to avoid confrontation with the legislative leadership, House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger. Everybody knows they only increase public school support when the public demands it.”

This is the same General Assembly that took away due-process rights from new teachers in 2014. That effectively instilled a fear of reprisal in newer teachers who may need to advocate for students and schools.

This is the same General Assembly that had a voter ID law declared unconstitutional because it targeted minorities and those in poverty in a state that is considered one of the most gerrymandered in the country.

Gerrymandering on the scale that was used these past few years and limiting those who can exercise right to vote is really akin to squashing people’s First Amendment rights.

The teachers who marched and rallied serve schools filled with students whose voices are compromised because of various reasons – lack of resources, discriminatory laws like HB2, lack of Medicaid expansion among others. Some of those students are Dreamers.

What the letter from the NC Association of School Administrators really stated was that it would not speak up for students and the very people who know them and their situations well: teachers.

No wonder May 16th was needed if just to give voice.

Or rather free speech in a peaceful assembly to petition the state government to fully fund public schools as stipulated by the state constitution.

It is less than six months until November 6th when the polls open for elections. It is almost guaranteed that most all of those people who marched and rallied on May 16th will voting that day.

And voting is also guaranteed by the constitution.

 

 

Reason #2 To March For Students & Rally for Respect On May 16th – Removal of Due-Process Rights and Career Status for Teachers

due process

If due-process rights are not restored for new teachers, then the idea of having a rally or a march to advocate for students and schools ten to fifteen years from now would likely never happen.

They are that important! Their removal was a beginning step in a patient, scripted, and ALEC-allying plan that systematically tries to weaken a profession whose foundation is advocating for public schools.

Due-process removal actually weakens the ability of the teaching force in NC to speak up and advocate a little each year as veteran teachers retire and are replaced by new teachers who do not receive those rights.

One of the first items that the GOP controlled General Assembly attempted to pass in the early part of this decade was the removal of due-process right for all teachers. Commonly called “tenure,” due process rights are erroneously linked to the practice that colleges use to award “tenure” to professors. Actually, they really are not the same.

What due-process means is that a teacher has the right to appeal and defend himself / herself when an administrator seeks to terminate employment. It means that a teacher cannot be fired on the spot for something that is not considered an egregious offense.

Of course, if a teacher does something totally against the law like inappropriate relations with students, violence, etc., then due-process rights do not really apply. But a new principal in a school does not have the right to just clean house because of right-to-work laws. Teachers with due process rights cannot just be dismissed with the swish of a wand.

Thanks to NCAE and some courageous teachers like my friend in my district, 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.

Simply put, veteran teachers’ records prove their effectiveness or they would not have gotten continuing licenses. Teachers with due-process rights actually work to advocate for schools and students without fear of sudden reprisal.

An Open Letter From a Veteran North Carolina Teacher to Young Teachers – You Are Vital

letter writing

Dear Fellow Educator,

I first want to tell you that I admire what you have chosen to do as a career. Teaching in today’s public schools is not easy. I know as I am in my 20th year of teaching. I still love my job. I still love being with the students. Outside of my family, this profession has fulfilled me like no other. I firmly believe my students would concur if asked.

And it has kept me young at heart and sharp in mind.

One of the main reasons I have adored public school teaching is I had great veteran teachers who mentored me and engaged with me, and who cared about how I progressed as an individual and professional.

But I worry about the future of our profession in North Carolina sometimes. I am afraid that we will not have as many veteran teachers in the future as we do now. That’s why I want to try and convince you to stay in the profession.

You are needed. You are vital. You can be agents of change and staunch advocates for schools and students. You can improve the profession and secure the very items that will strengthen our profession. You are beginning your career at one of the most crucial times where educational reform is at a fever pitch and schools are under constant scrutiny.

Teaching is that one “occupation” that everybody has some sort of stake in. If you are not a student, former student, parent of a student, employer of former students, then you are at least paying taxes to help support public schools. People who invest in any way, shape, or form are stakeholders and many will go out of their way to tell you what is right or wrong about our schools.

Teaching might be the most openly exposed, yet most misunderstood profession. With changes in curriculum, standards, evaluations, graduation requirements, salaries, policies, resources, laws, and personnel, it is arduous for even us veteran teachers to keep pace. Public education takes the largest part of our state budget; it probably takes up the most debate time and committee meetings in the General Assembly.

Class sizes are larger. High-stakes testing quantifies everything. Data gets crunched by outside entities. There are meetings with parents and administrators. There is the planning and grading and the revising of differentiated lesson plans.

And then there are our students, the very reasons why we do what we do. Their needs are upmost in our priorities.

Those needs are many: academic, mental, psychological, emotional, and physical. Those needs force us to “wear many hats.” Those needs force us to always learn how to best serve our students in conditions that could never be measured by standardized assessments.

When I became a teacher, my venerable uncle gave me some of his usual sage advice. A retired English teacher, he still is revered by former students. It was he who became the model for what I still strive to do in classroom. He told me when I began teaching to give it three years.

The first year would be a whirlwind simply trying to learn how to plan, execute, and instruct students. The second year would be a paper maelstrom because I was still trying to learn how to be a part of a school community and understand the inner workings of the school. The third year my immune system would get to the point where I wouldn’t catch every malady that students had and I would have familiarity with the job as a whole. My third year would be where I could see the profession holistically.

But the one thing he always stressed: enjoy the students. When the door closes for class, you can help some amazing things happen.

Students are what have kept me in this profession. With all of the flux that occurs in education, the criticism that schools receive, and the constant need for resources and support, students have been the constant and consistent foundation in my career.

Yes, the faces change from year to year, but they never disappear. Many will always want to stay in contact. All will have made an impression on you and you will impact them. If students always remain the center of what you do as an educator, those other stressors can be dealt with in proactive ways.

Having younger teachers energizes a school building. You bring in new ideas, contagious energy, and constant reminders of why we do what we do. You come in with new uses for technology and new pedagogical approaches. And it is up to us veterans to be useful mentors, good sounding boards, and constructive critics.

It is also a veteran teacher’s job to show you how to advocate for students and schools. It is that advocacy that helps keep students the focus of what we do and when we keep the focus on students we tend to stay in the profession longer, and when teachers stay in the profession longer it ensures that when new teachers come into the profession there will always be veterans there to help them and learn from them.

When I started teaching in North Carolina we had due-process rights, a salary schedule, and graduate degree pay increases. We had state-funded professional development and fewer standardized tests. We had a General Assembly that did a better job at fully-funding public schools. We had more time for each student to help “personalize” instruction.

Unfortunately, many of those conditions no longer exist. But they can again if you fight for them.

Advocating for students and schools means that you advocate for the teaching profession because schools do not work well without empowered teachers. Students need strong teachers who are supported for what they do; therefore, the more you advocate for the teaching profession, the more you are advocating for students and schools. It could mean that you make sure to vote in elections. It could mean that you join a professional organization like NCAE. It could mean that you write op-eds, visit legislators, or become involved with teacher groups. It could mean doing all of these.

Many in Raleigh will tell you that your average pay has increased as a beginning teacher an incredible amount. But if you really look at the overall picture, the removal of due-process, the removal of graduate degree pay increases, the recent mandate to keep new teachers from having state supported insurance when they retire, the stunted salary schedule, and all of the other measures enacted by the current NCGA, you will see why there are fewer teacher candidates in our colleges and universities.

But you are here, and I want you to stay. Your students, schools, communities, and fellow educators want you to stay, grow, and advocate. I want you to become a better veteran teacher than I am today who is willing and ready to help any new teacher get better at what he / she does which is help students. I want you to feel empowered to take action. I want you to be able to speak up for your profession, even if it means confiding only in trusted colleagues.

I will promise you this: if students see you advocating for them and their school, they will move mountains for you because when you keep students at the center of what you do, they will notice and act in kind.

And students are the reason we are here.

About That John Hood Op-ed on Teacher Pay and “Reasoned Debate”

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As the president of the John William Pope foundation and chairman of the board at the libertarian think tank John Locke Foundation, John Hood serves more as a mouthpiece that represents a political ideology which obeys the policies of the American Legislative Exchange Council more than it considers the average North Carolinian.

On issues such as voter rights, economic stimulus, tax reform, tort reform, legislative district boundaries, and the privatizing of public goods, John Hood’s writings and commentaries reflect the very ideologies of his boss, Art Pope, who helped craft the very political atmosphere that NC has adopted these last five years.

Nowhere does Hood’s words more reflect a narrow-mindedness than when he talks about public education.

John Hood’s recent missive in EdNC.org entitled “Teacher pay deserves reasoned debate” is nothing more than platitudinous rubbish that continues to push unregulated reform under the veil of a moral high road all in the name of free markets (https://www.ednc.org/2017/10/31/teacher-pay-deserves-reasoned-debate/).

It is condescending and haughty whether it was intended or not.

Hood calls for “reasoned debate.” That’s laughable. The practice of “reasoned debate” has not been used in Raleigh in years. When the very GOP-controlled General Assembly who champions the policies that Hood promotes conducts multiple “special sessions” and midnight meetings without transparency, that means the idea of “reasoned debate” has been abandoned.

The constant flow of court cases which continuously get laws and initiatives overturned as unconstitutional is the product of intentional disdain of reasoned debate. To claim that reasoned debate can and will be used when discussing the teaching profession is simply hot air. To claim that “civil, respectful, and productive discussion” is possible with the pedigree shown by leaders in Raleigh is even more preposterous.

Hood’s lesson in rhetoric with explanation on the “three elements to any argument” was especially arrogant. To suggest that what has been used to drive policy on public education was and still is built on facts and “logical reasoning” is a farce. What has happened in Raleigh is a distortion of the facts and the promulgation of logical fallacies.

And the idea that all parties come to the table to discuss matters? It is hard to “put the different definitions on the table” when most of the people who are to be affected by the “discussion” are not even allowed to the table.

Argumentation is not that simple when you consider the credibility of the speaker, the message, the audience, the style of the delivery, and the overall purpose. Argumentation can be meant to dominate, negotiate, inquire, or even assert. And arguments are rarely offered with just appeals to logic but may appeal to ethics and emotions and a mix of the three.

What Hood is doing is simplifying the matter and claiming to take a civilized route. In reality, a debate on public education should include so much more than Hood’s simple explanation of rhetoric.

When offering the biased analysis of the recent debate in Newton over teacher pay, Hood obviously sides with Dr. Terry Stoops and Rep. Craig Horn. They abide by the same narrative.

In fact, Hood made sure to highlight Stoops’s argument over teacher pay overhaul.

Terry Stoops, a former teacher who directs education studies for the John Locke Foundation, argued that traditional teacher salary schedules, centered on years of tenure and forms of credentials, bear little resemblance to the way professionals such as lawyers, doctors, engineers, and accountants are paid.

“If you’re a teacher and performing very well, you might get paid less than the person down the hall just because they’ve been in the profession longer,” Stoops said. “That sends a bad signal to those teachers that are in the profession that just because someone has spent longer in the system they’re making more, when it’s completely disassociated with student performance.”

Ironically, Hood identifies Stoops as a former teacher and not as his colleague at the John Locke Foundation. Why is that important? That’s because Stoops taught for less than one calendar year according to his LinkedIn profile.

One year.

He never experienced the very changes and flux that the very teachers he is supposedly “advocating” for have endured like change in curriculum, evaluations, leadership, testing, etc. In fact, it is hard to find anything that Dr. Stoops has written that informs teachers of his own limited days in the classroom in Virginia, a state that just got rid of its school performance grading system and put a cap on charter school growth, two initiatives so readily embraced in Raleigh.

But it’s that “suggestion” that NC should move to pay teachers like the “way professionals such as lawyers, doctors, engineers, and accountants are paid” that lacks the very logic Hood claims should be using in a “reasoned debate.”

If I as a teacher should be paid as one of those other professionals, then maybe I should be paid by an hourly rate that I establish and be able to consider each student a separate client since I have to differentiate instruction. Actually, I would be a lot richer now than when the current GOP-led NCGA came to power because now I teach more students in a school year with more criteria to be met and spend more hours teaching them.

Now that’s logic.

Maybe I could market myself as a professional and go after the best “clients” no matter where they are slated to attend. Competition is competition, right?. Essentially, that sounds a lot like what unregulated charter schools and private schools already do. And Hood is all for those.

The comment “Structuring pay around years of experience and degrees awarded was a bad idea” is also devoid of the logic that Hood so thinks we should use.

It seems logical to expect a lawyer, doctor, engineer, or accountant to believe that experience should be factored in his/her pay scale. Actually, the more letters that these professionals can place next to their names through further certification and advanced degrees, the more these people can demand in recompense. Of course, performance is key in their success, but for doctors, lawyers, engineers, and accountants, performance is not always under the constant scrutiny of the legislature.

Furthermore, each of those professions requires a certain amount of schooling and certification. The man who supposedly leads our public school system became a teacher in a matter of weeks and was in the classroom twice as long as the former teacher referred to in Hood’s op-ed, Dr. Stoops. Would Hood call Mark Johnson a “professional educator?” Try passing a bill like SB599 for the legal and medical professions.

Teachers are certainly underpaid. That is not the question. But to automatically equate how we pay teachers with how other “professionals” are paid is ridiculous when they are treated so differently than the teaching profession. Try regulating the legal, medical, and business communities in the same way that education is regulated. Interestingly, the same legislation that goes out of its way to “deregulate” how businesses operate in the state in order to promote business usually ensures less interference from government in how those entities should operate.

Quite the opposite has happened with public education. In fact, Hood and his reformist cronies have actually added more layers of nebulous accountability while weakening the ability for the profession to advocate for itself and the students in public schools.

And paying teachers like they are professionals probably would be easier if teachers were part of the conversation “at the table.” The operative word here is “at.”

Not “under” the table.

Not “on” the table”

“At” the table.

Then that conversation can start, because the “logical debate” that Hood alludes to seems to only have lawmakers “at” the table illogically discussing with their alternate facts what should be done about teacher pay.

Lawmakers should be more open to speak “with” teachers.

Not “to” them.

Not “down” at them.

This op-ed from John Hood is talking down to teachers.

Op-eds like this are a re-run of the same blue-blazered and straight collared argument to funnel tax-payer money from a public good to profit a few as well as weakening the teaching profession while presenting a dignified smile at the same time.

 

The Hypocritical Time Machine – Reflecting on Sen. Chad Barefoot and Rep. Rob Bryan’s 2014 Op-Ed About Teacher Pay

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.

Carrying on,

“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.

Ever.

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).

barefoots office

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.

North Carolina – FULLY FUND YOUR SCHOOLS!

This article should be talked about more than it has been especially in North Carolina whose state government has been entertaining ideas of revamping how it allocates its k-12 funding per LEA. It appeared in the New York Times’ “The Upshot” on Dec. 12th and is entitled “It Turns Out Spending More Probably Does Improve Education” (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/12/nyregion/it-turns-out-spending-more-probably-does-improve-education.html).

The article centers on a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research conducted by two economists from the University of California at Berkley and one from Northwestern University.

The names of those two institutions carries enough ethos to lend more than enough credibility to the findings. Cal-Berkley is considered the top public university in the country if not the world. Northwestern is a top fifteen institution in most rankings.

Here is the abstract of the study (http://www.nber.org/papers/w22011):

“We study the impact of post-1990 school finance reforms, during the so-called “adequacy” era, on absolute and relative spending and achievement in low-income school districts. Using an event study research design that exploits the apparent randomness of reform timing, we show that reforms lead to sharp, immediate, and sustained increases in spending in low-income school districts. Using representative samples from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, we find that reforms cause increases in the achievement of students in these districts, phasing in gradually over the years following the reform. The implied effect of school resources on educational achievement is large.”

Notice that it says “reforms.” But please do not let the word encompass all reforms with which you may be familiar. The study is talking about specific reforms that focus on funding public schools adequately. These are not reforms that include vouchers, charter schools, or other silver bullet “solutions” that actually re-form rather than improve.

What adequately funding schools really means is that schools are fully funded.

The New York Times article also stated the following:

“They found a consistent pattern: In the long run, over comparable time frames, states that send additional money to their lowest-income school districts see more academic improvement in those districts than states that don’t. The size of the effect was significant. The changes bought at least twice as much achievement per dollar as a well-known experiment that decreased class sizes in the early grades.”

That well-known experiment is the one performed by Dr. Frederick Mosteller from Harvard in 1995 which concluded that “Compelling evidence that smaller classes help, at least in early grades, and that the benefits derived from these smaller classes persist leaves open the possibility that additional or different educational devices could lead to still further gains” (http://www.princeton.edu/futureofchildren/publications/docs/05_02_08.pdf).

And the NEBR study says the positive effect of adequately funding low income school districts was “twice as much” as decreased class size.

How the money is spent is just as important as having the money to spend and one of the researchers makes that point clearly. And he should.

In a “reform-addicted” state that North Carolina has become in these last few years, the argument has been made by many that “throwing” money at public education has not yielded positive results. But who has been making the decisions on how those monies should be spent? Lawmakers or actual educators? When state lawmakers make monies available to local districts but attach certain strings to those funds as to how they must be spent, then something might be amiss.

Many who ran for reelection this year, particularly Pat McCrory and other GOP stalwarts, padded their resumes and campaign jargon with talk of how they actually increased spending for public schools. Most of them point to the fact that North Carolina spends nearly one billion dollars more now than it did before the Great Recession. One only has to read op-eds like the one by Phil Kirk, the chairman emeritus of the State Board of Education in the News & Observer this past September (http://www.newsobserver.com/opinion/op-ed/article100215677.html). In my rebuttal to him I simply offered,

“Of course there is more money spent on education now than in the past. North Carolina is one of the fastest growing states in the country. More people mean more students to educate. But it is interesting that the per-pupil expenditure under this present leadership is lower than it was before the Great Recession. Your argument doesn’t hold much credibility when you claim to be spending more overall, yet the average per-pupil expenditure has gone down precipitously.”

Add to that the amazingly spastic targets that schools must hit to even be considered successful in the eyes of the state government when the very tests that are used to measure school effectiveness change frequently. Just take a look at the school performance grades for the state of North Carolina from the past year and what you find is an almost pinpoint representation of where poverty hits our state the hardest. In fact, if you superimpose a map that plots the state’s school performance grades over a map that shows county levels of free and reduced lunches you will see a rather strong correlation. In fact, take a look at another post from this blog – https://caffeinatedrage.com/2016/09/05/map-it-and-it-becomes-very-apparent-that-poverty-affects-schools/.

Counties with lower incomes have schools that suffer more.

If it comes to a decision on how any additional funding is to be spent, then maybe it would make sense to look at who has made those decisions in the first place. In most cases, I would argue that they were made by non-educators – people who do not know what specific essentials are in the greatest need to help their students.

What may work for a school in Hoke County may not be the solution for a school in Alleghany County. It takes people who are in the situation to identify what needs to be done, not a bureaucrat in Raleigh who may never have set foot in a public school as a teacher, administrator, volunteer, or even as a parent.

It is time for North Carolina to fully fund its schools because the other “reforms” that follow have not worked to help our public school system:

  • Elimination of due process rights for new teachers
  • Graduate Degree Pay Bumps Removed for new teachers
  • Revolving Door of Standardized Tests
  • Less Money Spent per Pupil now than before 2008
  • Remove Caps on Class Sizes
  • Incorporated the Jeb Bush School Grading System that really just shows the effects of poverty
  • Cutting Teacher Assistants
  • Expanding Opportunity Grants
  • Uncontrolled Charter School Growth
  • Virtual Schools Run By For-Profit Companies
  • Achievement School Districts
  • Reduction of Teacher Candidates in Colleges
  • Elimination of Teaching Fellows Program

Most all of those “reforms” are cost-cutting measures that actually remove money from public education. Ironically the very reform that the study which opens this posting talks about as having the greatest effect on lower income counties is completely antithetical to the reforms championed by the state.

Imagine what could be done if our schools were fully funded because it is apparent what happens when they are not fully funded.

North Carolina’s Man-Made Educational Climate Change

 

NASA’s Global Climate Change website is dedicated to educating people about human influence on the environment. Under the “Scientific Consensus” tab it states,

“Multiple studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals1 show that 97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree: Climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities” (http://climate.nasa.gov/scientific-consensus/).

When 97% of publishing climate scientists make the same observation, it should not only cause people to take notice, but spur them into action.  Global warming is theorized to be behind the rise in catastrophic weather like hurricanes, extreme heat, excessive cold spells, floods, and erratic patterns of rain and drought.

global-warming1

An astounding number of educators in our traditional schools here in North Carolina would assert that there has been a significant change in the climate of the public school system whose terrain has also been victimized by floods of standardized tests, droughts of legitimate support from governing bodies, catastrophic storms of baseless criticism, the heat of reform efforts, and the freeze of privatization attempts.

In short, public education has been metaphorically altered by man-made climate change. And just like actual climate change, we as a state and as a nation are approaching a tipping point where the effects of climate change will be irreversible and our citizens will suffer.

Just like the many deniers of climate change and others who do not believe that humans have interfered with the health of the Earth, many people in North Carolina cannot conceive that what has happened to our public school system in the last four years has been detrimental to our schools and/or directly caused by uninformed politicians.

Simply look at the many claims coming from the governor’s office concerning his “Carolina Comeback” that includes assertions about teacher pay, graduation rate, funding, and college tuition and one can see a singular manufactured picture of what the governor wants you to believe North Carolina is at all times (https://www.patmccrory.com/results/). However, saying that we just experienced a day of mild temperatures and blue skies does not erase the fact that certain patterns have been put into place that erode both our physical environment and the public educational situation.

Man-made climate change in our public schools has included giving huge raises to a select few and claiming an erroneous average salary increase for all while ignoring veteran teachers.

It has included removal of due-process rights and graduate degree pay bumps.

It has included arbitrary evaluations systems and a push for merit pay where merit is based on standardized tests that do not measure growth.

It has included attacks on advocacy groups and the removal of class size caps.

It has included a revolving door of standardized tests constructed by for-profit entities and graded by outside institutions.

It has included a money-siphoning voucher system, unregulated charter school growth, and the creation of an Achievement School District, all of which have no history of success in other implementations.

It has included the use of a school grading system that literally displays the effects of poverty on public school children and the schools that service them.

The climate has severely suffered. Fewer students are entering the education field. Too many school systems have vacancies that still need to be filled. Veteran teachers are moving to other states, moving to other school systems, or beginning new careers.

And students are the victims. Not only do we leave them with a physical world that is rapidly losing its health, but we leave them unprepared because their public schools are not being properly funded.

We in North Carolina have just been witness to Hurricane Matthew. It wreaked havoc on our state and dumped tremendous amounts of rain on our towns and cities causing damage and flooding in places like Kinston and Lumberton.  Even the Triad area experienced flooding. The governor to his credit declared a state of emergency for these areas opening monies and resources to be used so that all affected citizens can receive the help needed to rebuild and reclaim.

Has he and those in power on West Jones Street in Raleigh done the same for our public schools? Have they released the funds necessary for our teachers and staffs to make sure that we have a strong foundation of public education? They say they have, but they have not. The climate of public education is proof of that.

And we are reaching a point of no return. Therefore, it is incumbent that we combat the sources of educational climate change and it begins on November 8th. We have the power to place people in office who can stop this man-made climate change in our public schools.

So get out and vote.

Open Letter to Mark Johnson, Candidate for State Supertintendent, Concerning Remarks on Poverty and Student Preparedness

Dear Mr. Johnson,

I read with great interest your essay posted on EdNC.org entitled “Our American Dream” on September 7th. Because you are a member of the school board from my own district and the republican nominee for State Superintendent, I was eager to read/see/hear what might distinguish you from Dr. Atkinson.

I agree that there is a lot to be done to help cure what ails our public education system, and I agree that we should not be reliant on so many tests in order that teachers can do what they are trained to do – teach. I also positively reacted to your stance on allowing local school boards to have more say in how assessment portfolios are conducted and focusing more resources on reading instruction in elementary grades.

However, I did not read much else that gives me as a voter the immediate impetus to rely on you to lead our public schools, specifically your words on student preparedness, the role of poverty, and school funding. In fact, many of the things you say about the current state of education in this op-ed make you seem more like a politician trying to win a race rather than becoming a statewide instructional leader.

You opening paragraph seems to set a tone of blame. You stated,

“Politicians, bureaucrats, and activists are quick to proffer that public education is under assault in North Carolina. They angrily allege attacks on the teaching profession; furiously fight against school choice; and petulantly push back against real reform for our education system. But why is there no comparable outrage that last June, thousands of high school seniors received diplomas despite being woefully unprepared for college or the workforce?”

In truth, many politicians and bureaucrats have engaged in attacks on the public school system and its teachers. Just look at the unregulated growth of charter schools, the rise of Opportunity Grants, and the creation of an ASD district. Look at the removal of due-process rights and graduate pay for new teachers.

Not only am I a teacher, but I am a parent of two children in public schools, a voter in local school board elections, and an activist. I have fought against school choice as it has been defined on West Jones Street with Opportunity Grants and charter schools because it has come at the expense of traditional public schools that still teach a vast majority of our kids.

And I would like to hear what you think real reforms are. Your op-ed would have been a great place to outline (not just mention) some of those reforms.

But your last sentence in that opening paragraph (“But why…), I believe, shows a disconnect between what you believe to be happening and what the truth is.

This past June I wrote an op-ed for EdNC.org entitled “Zero to Fifty” (https://www.ednc.org/2016/06/15/zero-to-fifty/  ) about the policy of some school systems like the one you serve to mandate that students not receive a mark below “50” for a quarter grade no matter their performance in class. A student may never turn in work or refuse to participate, but he/she is guaranteed a “50” as a final grade for a quarter as stipulated by the local school board. That means that you are partly responsible for the very condition you bemoan, especially when you say, “This upsetting list goes on and on while North Carolina education leaders brag that 86 percent of students receive a diploma.”

When the “0 to 50” rule went into effect, it was coupled with the state’s own statute that all schools have a ten-point grading scale. That means that of all of the possible grades a student could receive as a final grade (50 scores points), only 10 of them were failing grades. In essence, the system that you represented on a local level pretty much told teachers that they had to pass students who may have been “woefully unprepared”.

And believe me, we teachers were screaming about it. You could even call it “comparable outrage.”

You also stated, “The education establishment and its political allies have one answer that they have pushed for the past 40 years – more money for more of the same.” First, I need for you to define “same.” In the years I have been in NC, I have been through many curriculum standards, evaluation systems, pay scales, NCLB, Race to the Top, etc. Secondly, who is the educational establishment? The people I see dictate policy in schools on West Jones Street certainly are not the same people who were crafting policy ten years ago. And less than fifteen years ago, North Carolina was considered the best, most progressive public school system in the Southeast. Is that part of the “same” you are referring to?

You also state that “nearly half of all those graduates fail to meet a single readiness benchmark on the ACT, almost half of all graduates who go to community college need to take remedial courses, and many employers say they can’t find good candidates due to a “lack of education credentials.”

Using the ACT might not be the best benchmark for student achievement. North Carolina is one of only thirteen states that requires all students (EC, LEP, etc.) to take that exam which has no impact on their transcripts, provides no feedback in its scores on how to improve student achievement, and is administered on a school day in which other activities and classes take place. Most states only have paying students take the ACT on a Saturday; those students have an investment in the results, hence higher scores.

I agree that “most teachers and school leaders work tirelessly for their students despite the challenges.” But as a teacher I cannot really give credit to lawmakers in Raleigh for seeking much-needed, overdue raises for them. Those “historic” raises are not what they really appear to be, especially in light of countless rebuttals to the contrary such as this from your hometown paper – http://www.journalnow.com/opinion/columnists/stuart-egan-about-those-teacher-salaries-and-raises/article_556420c9-9f7e-5a7b-a7d6-35b8a91e484d.html .

You go on to say,

“But no matter what we pay our educators, the system in which they teach is broken. Until we confront this fact, we limit the potential of our teachers and, sadly, of our students. Ask any educator about how much time they are forced to stop teaching and focus on testing at the command of the NC Department of Public Instruction.”

Placing the entirety of blame in this instance on DPI seems a little narrow-minded. What I hear a lot of teachers talk about are actions done by the legislature such as:

  • Elimination of due process rights for new teachers
  • Graduate Degree Pay Bumps Removed for new teachers
  • Revolving Door of Standardized Tests
  • Less Money Spent per Pupil now than before 2008
  • Remove Caps on Class Sizes
  • Incorporated the Jeb Bush School Grading System that really just shows the effects of poverty
  • Cutting Teacher Assistants
  • Expanding Opportunity Grants
  • Uncontrolled Charter School Growth
  • Virtual Schools Run By For-Profit Companies
  • Achievement School Districts
  • Reduction of Teacher Candidates in Colleges
  • Elimination of Teaching Fellows Program

Are you willing to confront those people on West Jones Street?

And speaking of that Jeb Bush School grading system that NC incorporated to designate school performance grades, they really highlight the issue of poverty you allude to in your op-ed. Specifically, you said, “The transformation of our public education system will open true pathways out of poverty.” I would argue that addressing poverty outside of class would help students inside of class as much if not more.

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 lawmakers willfully ignore when it comes to funding our schools to avoid overcrowding.

Take a look at the following data maps available on EdNC.org’s Data Dashboard. The first shows a distribution of the school performance grades from 2014-2015. The second shows the number of students who qualify for free and reduced lunches.

map1

map2

If you superimpose them upon each other you will see the strong correlation between poverty and school performance.

Education can help pull people out of poverty. I will not argue that, but attacking poverty at its root sources will do so much to help education because it is a “moral obligation.”

I do not think that what you describe is the fault of the education system alone, and your experience at West Charlotte High School is not unique. Teachers who have taught much longer than your two year tenure, who have taught longer than you have been alive, who trained to be a teacher longer than you were a teacher, who have experienced procedure changes, changes in leadership, changes in curriculum, changes in salaries, and other seismic shifts in policy will probably affirm the idea that schools are a mirror of the society it serves. Other problems exist that education alone cannot remedy, especially when you suggest that we not spend more money.

So, I do agree that “many different challenges face us,” but I cannot “acknowledge the truth that our public education system needs to be transformed” totally when I believe as a veteran teacher that we need to transform our commitment to public education and prioritize that commitment first.

 

 

Open Letter to Phil Kirk, Chairman Emeritus for the NC State Board of Education

Dear Mr. Kirk,

I read with great interest your op-Ed for EdNC.org posted on September7, 2016 entitled “Outlandish myths about NC Republicans and education” (https://www.ednc.org/2016/09/07/outlandish-myths-nc-republicans-education/ )  It originally appeared in The News and Observer on September 6th .

Your initial paragraph in which you recount your unparalleled service and experience with education both in public schools and private universities more than qualifies you to speak about our current politically charged educational climate.  However, I also believe that it binds you to present your information in the entire context in which it resides.

As I read through your list of myths and their subsequent debunking, I could not help but think that you are presenting these myths with a lamp that does not fully shed light on the entire reality of the situation. It’s as if you defined the context of the claims and myths that many make in order to validate your explanations and allow them to fit within a politically motivated narrative that gives the current administration and legislature more credit than they deserve.

What you claim in the framework you present it in is totally correct. I am saying that you have said nothing that is incorrect within the context you present your points in. But there are so many other variables that affect the climate of public education that if investigated really show that you are doing more “cherry-picking” with numbers rather than presenting a complete outlook.

And with your background and understanding of public education, that’s simply outlandish.

  1. “Myth: Teachers are leaving North Carolina in record numbers. The truth is that last year, 6.8 percent left teaching to pursue a different career and only 1.1 percent left to teach in a different state. Some undoubtedly left because their spouses found jobs in other professions. In fact, between 2010 and 2014, 8,500 out-of-state teachers moved to North Carolina to teach while only 2,200 teachers left.”

Those numbers are correct. But it is how you are phrasing the first sentence that builds a different construct than what many have been worried about which is teacher turnover. The numbers you present are only what people are allowing you to know. You are assuming that all teachers who leave the profession “self-report”.

I would invite you to look at the report to the North Carolina General Assembly about the state of the Teaching Profession in North Carolina. It is more comprehensive and shows many more variables than you present (http://www.ncpublicschools.org/docs/educatoreffectiveness/surveys/leaving/2014-15turnoverreport.pdf ).

The report also includes information on:

  • “Teachers who left the LEA but remained in education (31%) (Includes individuals resigning to teach in another NC LEA or charter school, individuals resigning to teach in a non-public school in NC, and individuals who moved to non-teaching positions in education)
  • Teachers who left the LEA for personal reasons (40%) (Includes individuals retiring with reduced benefits, individuals resigning to teach in another state, individuals dissatisfied with teaching, individuals who resigned for health reasons, individuals who resigned due to family responsibilities and/or childcare, death, and individuals who resigned due to family relocation, individuals seeking a career change)
  • Teachers who were terminated by the LEA (7%) (Includes individuals who were non-renewed, dismissed, or resigned in lieu of dismissal)
  • Teachers who left the LEA for reasons beyond the LEA’s control (15%) (Includes individuals who retired with full benefits, deceased, movement required by Military Orders, end of TFA or VIF term)
  • Teachers who left the LEA for other reasons not listed above (7%) (Includes teachers resigning or leaving teaching for reasons not listed or those who resigned for unknown and other reasons) (p.10) .”

The same report also shows that teacher turnover has actually risen during the current administration’s tenure (p.8).

kirk1

You state,

  1. “Myth: Republicans are cutting textbook funding. Since Gov. Pat McCrory was elected, spending on textbooks has tripled from $23 million to $72 million per year. In fact, it was the Democrats who cut textbook funding from $111 million to $2.5 million seven years ago. This GOP increase is in addition to $143 million in state and federal funds to transition classrooms to digital and wi-fi connectivity. In less than two years, N.C. will be one of a few states where all classrooms are connected.”

First, the current administration is not the first to try and get all classrooms in all schools plugged in digitally. Gov. Perdue was and still is very proactive in advocating for technological advances to be married to schooling. But let’s turn to textbooks. Below is a list of textbook expenditures over the last nine budgets that was presented by DPI. These numbers can be found on http://www.ncpublicschools.org/fbs/resources/data/ .

  • 07-08 – $99,490,211
  • 08-09 – $100,652,409
  • 09-10 – $111,162,790
  • 10-11 – $2,500,000
  • 11-12 – $23,431,227
  • 12-13 – $22,816,039
  • 13-14 – $23,169,585
  • 14-15 – $24,265,721
  • 15-16 – $52,384,390

I find it interesting that you concentrate on the 10-11 figures. And two words may be able to explain this expenditure – Great Recession. Revenues simply dried up. The economy was in shambles. Blaming the meager amount of money spent on textbooks in this year would be like blaming the entire recession on NC democrats.

But what is more telling is in that particular year more conservative Republicans were coming into the state legislature who looked to cut taxes and what you had is an incredibly injured revenue pipeline to fund public education in a state that literally had doubled in population in the previous 30 years. In fact, in Gov. Perdue’s last two years, she literally was facing a General Assembly that was veto-proof in the Senate, and nearly veto-proof (four shy) in the House (http://www.wral.com/news/state/nccapitol/blogpost/11273413/ ).

Look at what was spent for textbooks in the three previous “democrat” years. Now look at the years that republicans have been in control. Furthermore, this is in real dollars which are not adjusted for inflation through the consumer price index.

Again, you are viewing what happened with selective vision. In this case, rather egregiously.

  1. “Myth: Spending on K-12 spending has been cut. Since Republicans assumed power, spending on K-12 has increased by 18 percent, including a $700 million increase in this year alone. North Carolina is unique in the level of state funding it provides for K-12 public schools with 64 percent of funding coming from the state compared with the national average of only 46 percent. Education receives the largest share of the state budget, and K-12 receives by far the largest chunk of those dollars. Only in government can increases be called reductions!”

Sen. Jim Davis made the same claims in a Macon County Board of Commissioners meeting this past summer. A video of that presentation is available here – http://livestream.com/accounts/16465545/events/6107359/videos/132381404.

And what he claimed and what you claimed are really padded points made by many in the current administration. I will rebut to you with what I wrote the senator.

“Of course there is more money spent on education now than in the past. North Carolina is one of the fastest growing states in the country. More people mean more students to educate. But it is interesting that the per-pupil expenditure under this present leadership is lower than it was before the Great Recession.

Here’s an analogy. Say in 2008, a school system in your district had 1000 students in its school system and spent 10 Great Recession. million dollars in its budget to educate them. That’s approximately 10,000 per pupil expenditure. Now in 2016, that same district has 1500 students and the school system is spending 11.5 million to educate them. According to your claims, that district is spending more total dollars now than in 2008 on education, but the per-pupil expenditure has gone down significantly by about 2300 dollars per student or 23 percent.

Your argument doesn’t hold much credibility when you claim to be spending more overall, yet the average per-pupil expenditure has gone down precipitously.”

Add in inflation and those numbers become more startling.

  1. “Myth: Teacher salaries are being increased only because this is an election year. Two years ago, North Carolina raised teacher’s salaries more than any other state in the nation. Teacher salaries were increased by 14 percent for beginning teachers. Last year teachers with six through 10 years experience received raises between six and 17 percent. This year teachers received pay increases averaging 4.7 percent, and those experienced teachers between eight and 19 years on the pay scale received raises of 10 to 13 percent!”

Are you sure about that? My paycheck doesn’t really reflect all that you say. Why? Because you use the word “average.”  Saying that North Carolina raised teacher salaries more than any other state in the nation in 2014 is misleading. One can raise the salary of first year teachers by a few thousand dollars and it would give them an average raise of maybe 10-15%. One would then only have to give veteran teachers a very small raise funded by longevity pay (which all veteran teachers no longer get) and the OVERALL average raise still looks good, and not much money has to be invested.

I invite you to read James Hogan’s recent posting about teacher pay on his blog entitled “No, NC Republicans Have Not Fixed Teacher Pay” (http://www.forum.jamesdhogan.com/2016/09/no-nc-republicans-havent-fixed-teacher.html ). It’s devastatingly accurate and it doesn’t even talk about the removal of longevity pay.

  1. “Myth: Principals have been left behind as teacher pay has been steadily increased under the Republicans. That has been true for the past eight years when they received a total of 1.2 percent increased pay. This year the Republicans granted two percent raises with a study approved for administrator compensation. Small, yes, but a recognition of the problem and a step in the right direction.”

We are 50 out 51 in principal pay. You can’t really take credit for identifying a gaping wound now when everybody else has been seeing it for years.

  1. “Myth: North Carolina’s pay for teachers compared with other states is slipping. As McCrory took office, pay had slipped to 47th. We will move to at least 41 this year and to a projected 34th next year. Total compensation, including fringe benefits, now averages $66,000 for 10 months’ employment. Is that enough for the tough job teachers face every day? Not for the effective teachers, but the trend has certainly been reversed and is headed toward our paying our teachers the most in the Southeast.”

The words “projected” and “reality” are very different.  You said earlier in your op-Ed that we had the largest increase in teacher pay in 2014 and look what it got us. We are still near the bottom. Either the numbers are skewed somewhat or your claim lacks adequate explanation.

You are also assuming that we will rise in rankings without considering that other states will be increasing their own salaries and benefits packages.

Furthermore, you will need to convince me that we only do ten months of work. The budget now requires us to seek more certification renewal on our own time and schools do not prepare themselves over the summer. No school is ever really closed. Besides, there are a lot of coaches out there who work more in the summers than people really ever know.

  1. “Myth: Class size has been increased. The truth is that kindergarten is capped at 18 students, first grade at 16, and second and third grades at no more than 17.”

What about 4th grade?  5th?  6th?  7th?  8th?  9th?  10th?  11th?  12th?

Let me refer to the Allotment Policy Handbook FY 2013-14 on guidelines for maximum class size for all classes. There is a table from p.26 that gives some guide lines to students per classroom.

kirk2

However, local authorities can extend class sizes if there is a need in their eyes. If you look on the very next page of the same handbook there is the following table:

kirk3

That bill referred to, HB112, allowed the state to remove class size requirements while still allowing monies from the state to be allocated based on the previous table’s numbers. And that’s huge! Some classes on my campus push upwards to 40 students.

Another detail to emphasize is the change that 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.

You end your op-Ed with a semi-rhetorical question that begs even more explanation – “Does all that and more justify the political rhetoric that Republicans don’t care or fund education?”

Well, yes. Because there are more truthful “myths” that I need you to address in the full light of reality such as how the following are moves to help our schools and its teachers.

  • Elimination of due process rights for new teachers
  • Graduate Degree Pay Bumps Removed for new teachers
  • Revolving Door of Standardized Tests
  • Less Money Spent per Pupil now than before 2008
  • Remove Caps on Class Sizes
  • Incorporated the Jeb Bush School Grading System that really just shows the effects of poverty
  • Cutting Teacher Assistants
  • Expanding Opportunity Grants
  • Uncontrolled Charter School Growth
  • Virtual Schools Run By For-Profit Companies
  • Achievement School Districts
  • Reduction of Teacher Candidates in Colleges
  • Elimination of Teaching Fellows Program

I look forward to hearing your thoughts, especially if you consider my claims in this letter outlandish.

Stuart Egan,
Public School Teacher

About That Letter to the Editor in the 9/1 Winston-Salem Journal Concerning “Johnny-Come-Lately Teachers” Who “Bicker”, “Complain”, “Cry”, “Whine” and Have “Little to Zero Standing”. It Deserves a Response.

I read with great interest (actually, many people did) your “Letter to the Editor” from September 1st entitled “Grateful for the raise” (http://www.journalnow.com/opinion/letters_to_the_editor/the-readers-forum-friday-letters/article_9eef5d77-bcad-5c1b-9274-b1c01d9e45fc.html) that praised the actions of the current administration and the legislature concerning public education.

wsj

The full text follows as a reference.

“Count me in as a teacher who refuses to bicker and complain about the teacher salaries in North Carolina.

The teacher-pay issue has been paramount going back to when I was in high school over at R.J. Reynolds (class of 1987). These Johnny-come-lately teachers that cry and whine about the lack of teacher pay raises were completely silent when our pay was cut and frozen for a few years prior to the Republicans taking power in our state.

Anybody who chose teaching as a profession knowing the pay shortages that have historically afflicted the profession nationwide have little to zero standing to make these kinds of complaints. Sure, it would be nice to make more money, but it’s not as simple as snapping fingers to make it happen.

If the Democrats take power after this election I will be eager to see just how much this impacts teacher pay. My bet is it will impact teacher pay about as much as the N.C. Education Lottery has.

Thank you for the recent pay raise, Gov. Pat McCrory and the legislature. Hope you can work another one in next year!”

It begs a response because there are many who are looking to teachers to inform them on what is really occurring in our public schools to help them determine whom to vote for in November.

Your missive called and labeled teachers advocating for better salaries and conditions in the current political climate as:

  • Those who “bicker” and “complain”
  • “Johnny-come-lately teachers that [sic] cry and whine”
  • Those who were “completely silent” during the Great Recession, and…
  • Have “little to zero standing”

And while the intent of such name-calling may have been to silence such individuals with an authoritarian tone, it actually confirmed that what many in the field of public education fight against most is the complete ignorance and lack of understanding of what has really happened, what is happening now, and what is allowed to take place.

You make the initial assertion that the very teachers who are confronting the current state government about teacher salaries were “completely silent” when pay was cut and frozen for a few years before the Republicans took power in NC.

First, it needs to be determined if the pay was cut or it was frozen. Those are two different actions.  My understanding (and I am not a history teacher) is that in 2009, then Gov. Perdue, a former teacher, FROZE salaries in response to the Great Recession that hit hard in that year. Revenues simply dried up. The economy was in shambles.

Couple that with more and more conservative Republicans coming into the state legislature who looked to cut taxes and what you have is an incredibly injured revenue pipeline to fund public education in a state that literally had doubled in population in the previous 30 years. In fact, in Gov. Perdue’s last two years, she literally was facing a General Assembly that was veto-proof in the Senate, and nearly veto-proof (four shy) in the House (http://www.wral.com/news/state/nccapitol/blogpost/11273413/ ).

Frankly, I don’t think many teachers were screaming for salary raises during Perdue’s tenure. I believe that many of us were fighting to keep teachers in the classroom period and at sustainable rates because there was no money really to even pay what we had. We gladly took furlough days and kept teaching when the salary schedules were also frozen because many of us understood what was at stake as teachers and in many cases parents.

We also had faith that when the economy recovered, we would experience the raises in the salary schedule identified when we signed contracts. Just look at the salary schedule from 2008 then add in longevity and the calculated inflation with the Consumer Price Index and you may be surprised. We are not even close to what was originally planned.

When recovery actually began to occur nationally, both the governor’s mansion and West Jones Street were under Republican control. And that’s when Phil Berger took the reins for policy. He said the following in a press conference right before the 2012 session,

“Higher taxes and more spending is [sic] not a solution to the problems that we have in our public schools. Until we get the policy right, I don’t think the taxpayers of this state are prepared or should be asked to put more money into the public schools.”

What that meant was that he would not allow the same rate of taxpayer money to go to public education in 2012 and beyond as it did before the Great Recession. And he kept that promise. In fact, Gov. McCrory seems to have carried the torch himself with never vetoing a budget proposal set forth by the NCGA. On the other hand, Gov. Perdue actually vetoed the budget in 2011 that you may have inadvertently made reference to. It was overridden making it hard to really pin a cut in pay or education resources on her.

No matter what recovery would happen, Berger was not going to allow funds for education to return to previous levels – levels which were originally championed by republican Governors like Jim Holshouser and Jim Martin, both of whom raised teacher salaries to ensure a strong public school system. Of course, democratic governors like Terry Sanford,  Jim Hunt, Mike Easley, and Bev Perdue also championed higher education budgets, but a couple of them did have to freeze pay during recessions. That’s just what recessions do to state budgets.

Consider that Gov. Pat McCrory and the GOP-led legislature that you flatteringly thank did the following in the past three years as part of a “Carolina Comeback”:

  • Elimination of due process rights for new teachers
  • Graduate Degree Pay Bumps Removed for new teachers
  • Revolving Door of Standardized Tests
  • Less Money Spent per Pupil now than before 2008
  • Remove Caps on Class Sizes
  • Incorporated the Jeb Bush School Grading System that really just shows the effects of poverty
  • Cutting Teacher Assistants
  • Expanding Opportunity Grants
  • Uncontrolled Charter School Growth
  • Virtual Schools Run By For-Profit Companies
  • Achievement School Districts
  • Reduction of Teacher Candidates in Colleges
  • Elimination of Teaching Fellows Program

And that’s not even a complete list. During that time, North Carolina has been lagging behind other states in teacher compensation. Either those states have recovered economically at a quicker rate than NC or NC has nit prioritized public education in the same manner.

You complain about “Johnnies-Come-Lately?” The way things are regressing now, we won’t have “Johnnies-Become-Teachers”. And the raise you seem to be praising McCrory and the others on West Jones Street for? For about 7 out of 10 “Johnnies-Who-Have-Been-Here-Longer-Than-You “, they saw no raise at all. Some even experienced a reduction because that bonus we got last year was a one-time deal and we no longer get that longevity bonus.

And even now, we have a shortage of teachers in our own district. Imagine what that shortage is statewide.  Sounds like we have a lot of “Johnnies-Never-Came”.

The statement about teachers “knowing the pay shortages that have historically afflicted the profession nationwide have little to zero standing to make these kinds of complaints” is weak at best. Why? Because those “pay shortages” usually come during economic recession. People can’t spend as much money and therefore the tax revenues that fund public schools go through a drought.

But as Gov. McCrory claims with his latest commercials, we are in a “Carolina Comeback”. We are no longer under the oppression of a recession. Unemployment is low. Lots of jobs have come to North Carolina. We have revenue coming in. We EVEN HAD A SURPLUS last year. So what happened to it? It wasn’t reinvested in the state.

While NC still lags in teacher pay and almost a quarter of the students who come to public schools in our state live in poverty, the governor and the General Assembly are spending ludicrous amounts of money financing Opportunity Grants (over $900 million slated for the next ten years), charter schools, and other initiatives that seem to benefit speculators rather than the state as a whole. So maybe the “bickering” and “complaining” is really just some citizens actually telling their elected officials who are sworn to serve them that they have misplaced priorities.

If the democrats do take power, I will also be eager to see if they positively impact teacher pay. But be careful in comparing that impact to the effects of the NC Education Lottery. Last year alone Forsyth County received nearly $20 million dollars from the lottery, much of it to fund teacher assistant jobs in early grades. For parents of special needs children like myself, I am grateful for the lottery’s impact. In fact, since the lottery started in 2006, Forsyth County has received $131,924,952 according to figures from the official education lottery site. Go further into that report and you will see the following:

  • “Forsyth County has received more than $54,744,626 to help pay the salaries of 1022 teachers in grades K-3.
  • More than $42,863,643 raised by the lottery for school construction in Forsyth County meets needs that otherwise would have to be paid for with local property taxes. Local officials decide how to spend the money.
  • The N.C. Pre-K Program serves children at risk of falling behind their peers as they start kindergarten. More than $14,828,625 in lottery funds have paid for 3308 four-year-olds in Forsyth County to prepare for success.
  • College students who qualify for federal Pell Grants in Forsyth County have received9170 lottery scholarships. More than$10,339,776 in lottery funds have been used for tuition, fees, room and board, books and supplies.
  • Lottery funds have also supplied 12780grants to college students attending state universities within the UNC system who qualify for UNC need-based financial aid. Those students have used more than$4,353,396 to help pay for the cost of their education” (http://www.nc-educationlottery.org/county.aspx?county=Forsyth).

That sounds like positive impact. And if those figures are incorrect, they would have been debunked by now.

Overall, your “letter of gratitude” reads more like a list of blanket statements laced with logical fallacies and glittering generalities offered to fit a narrative that aligns itself with partisan politics. Its timing and placement almost make it look like a rebuttal to comments made by one (or many) you claim “bickers”, “complains”, “whines”, and “cries”.

But in reality your rebuttal is weak, frail, and feeble.  It alienates those who are fighting so that the “Johnnies-Come-Lately” will become the “Johnnies-Become-Veterans” who will then provide the glue of the most important public service our state provides when the teachers of today are retired and gone.

And we will need those teachers then more than we could possibly fathom now.