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.

Open Letter to Sen. Jim Davis Concerning Misleading Claims

Dear Sen. Davis,

It was with great anticipation that I viewed and watched your comments at a recent Macon County Board of Commissioners meeting in which you were “invited” to rebut the legitimate claims of a highly respected, veteran educator named John de Ville.

A video of that presentation is available here – http://livestream.com/accounts/16465545/events/6107359/videos/132381404.

However, that anticipation quickly turned into an exercise of patience as I listened to a three-term state senator do nothing but rehash the same talking points of the GOP establishment in Raleigh that claims to have strengthened public education when in reality has created the very circumstances that Mr. de Ville is fighting to remedy for the sake of our students.

When you were introduced by one of the commissioners, it was obvious that your presence was there to simply squash Mr. de Ville’s well prepared argument. In actuality, you strengthened Mr. de Ville’s argument.

You approached the podium with the “purest of motives” and considering the circumstances under which you were present, it seems more like you there with the purest of political motives.

As I mentioned earlier, you simply restate the same talking points that others in Raleigh have used to validate your legislative actions, and again it bears responses that clearly show that you either misrepresent the truth or simply ignore it.

  • “Stimulus money and non-recurring revenue”

You made mention of the 2008 budget and that it was bolstered by Obama’s stimulus money when he took office and when democrats controlled Congress. Not counting that fact that Obama did not actually take office until 2009 and stimulus money was not released right away, you are simply revising history about the Great Recession. Mr. de Ville actually explains this better than I could in a recent exchange. He said,

“Yes, 2008 was the high water mark for recent public education funding … Democrats were running the state. That’s why all of us who are public education advocates use that as a baseline, because that’s how well we were doing ON OUR OWN and without the current hostility to public education we are currently experiencing.  But it is IMPOSSIBLE that any federal stimulus money was spent on public education that year (2007 – 2008) because (a) the Great Recession did not hit until the fall of 2008… When George W. Bush was in office. (b) the stimulus wasn’t passed until February of 2009 and the stimulus/EduJobs monies didn’t flow to states and counties for educational use until later in 2009 for use in the 2009 – 2010 year.”

  • “We have increased educational funding every year.”

Sen. Davis, you are correct, but there is so much more involved. You are making the same talking point that Gov. McCrory makes on his website for reelection.

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 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.

  • “The state budget spends 56% on education.”

That’s true. And it seems like a large amount. And it is higher than the national average. But it’s supposed to be. The very state constitution that you are sworn to uphold calls for it. I have made this argument before to Rep. John Hardister. I will repeat that argument here.

The Public School Forum of North Carolina’s publication the 2014 Local School Finance Study provides a great history of the state’s practice in funding public schooling which is rooted in the proclamation that all children in the state ages 6-21 are guaranteed a good public education. The rest of my explanation to him can be found at this link, http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Letter-to-Hardister.pdf.

However, I do want to point out that before we had a “Republican governor and a Republican-controlled legislature,” the state spent an even higher percentage on public education because THAT IS WHAT THE STATE CONSTITUTION DECLARED. As I stated to Rep. Hardister,

“…those percentages of spending are not a badge of honor that this General Assembly gets to wear; it was earned many decades ago. The fact that the percentage is getting lower actually is not a positive sign for this administration. It is a reflection that the NCGA’s level of commitment to public education is wavering. Since most of the state funding goes to salaries of certified and classified employees, the fact the percentage of funds from the state is not higher than it was in years past is indicative of the stagnated salaries NC gives to teachers and assistants. With the elimination of funds for professional development and talk of cutting numbers of teaching assistants, how can you brag about the level of money spent on public schooling?”

Also lost in this is the uneven fashion in which money from the state is actually dispersed to LEA’s on the county and city levels. One of the more cohesive explanations of North Carolina’s state funding practices is a publication by the Center for American Progress entitled “The Stealth Inequities of School Funding” produced in 2012. It summarizes our state’s practices in a fairly concise manner, especially on page 46.

And that uneven distribution to LEA’s (central offices) has been cut by the most recent budget, the one you claim creates a surplus for our state.

  • The NEA statistics and the fact they “will tell you they have problems”

It’s odd that the NEA’s report on educational spending is usually considered the standard in the nation. The John Locke Foundation’s John Hood and Dr. Terry Stoops have used it to bolster their baseless claims. Even the GOP has used it to claim that teacher salaries are rising on average more in North Carolina than any other state. But you seem to dismiss it with an uneducated perspective.

Below is another source of information, the U.S. Census Bureau. It pretty much confirms the same findings as the NEA report.

census

Not flattering at all. And the benefits package that you refer to? Yes, it is better than some and worse than a lot.

Also, you made mention of NC in comparison to other school systems like Detroit and Chicago. It is interesting that you compare an entire state against two cities; it really is like comparing apples to oranges, or maybe vegetables. They give different tests and more glaringly, they have teacher unions which have collective bargaining powers. North Carolina is a right to work state and with the removal of due process rights and graduate degree pay bumps for new teachers, you have created an entirely new dynamic here in NC that does not exist in Chicago or Detroit.

Furthermore, Chicago and Detroit have been more known for their corruption from elected officials, not school employees. That fact that they have teacher unions might be one of the very thing that is keeping their students in school.

  • “Tax Burden”

You make many references to the easing of tax burdens. Again, that is selective. And you make references to surpluses. That too is misleading.

That “stronger, healthier economy” you refer to was built on many things that were actually deleterious to working North Carolinians. Think of the tax deductions and exemptions that were eliminated for many middle-class families. While the state could now claim to have “lowered” taxes, many families were actually giving more money to the state because they could not claim item deductions as they could in the past. Also, with the move to a consumer-driven economy newer taxes on goods and services (auto repairs, eleimiatioj of tax-free school supply weekends, etc.) has “burdened” the citizens.

And the last two years are the first in my teaching career that I had to pay the state taxes in April instead of receiving a refund.

And of course you can always create a surplus – simply by not spending the money or in this case reinvesting it in our students.

  • “Teacher Salaries”

This is still one of the most egregious claims that this current administration makes – that average teacher pay has risen to over 50K a year.

For new teachers entering in the profession here in NC there is no longer any graduate degree pay bump, no more longevity pay (for anyone), and a changed salary schedule that makes it possible for a teacher to top out on the salary schedule within 15 years without really any raise for the last fifteen years until retirement.

And that top salary for new teachers is barely over 50K. So how can that be the average pay in NC be over 50K when no one can really make much over 50K as a new teacher in his/her entire career unless they all become nationally certified (which takes a monetary investment by the teacher to start)?

Easy. He is counting all of the veteran teachers’ current salaries in that figure. The very people whose salaries simply disgust the governor and the General Assembly to the point that they had to take measures to “lower” them are actually being used to tout the governor’s bold statement.

Furthermore, the governor is counting on local supplements. This comes in the face of a budget that is allocating less money to each central office of each school system for administrative costs. Now each county has to raise more money to actually offset those costs and also allow for local supplements. And not all localities provide the same supplements.

And we have not even mentioned your role in allowing unregulated charter school growth and Opportunity Grants to take even more monies and resources away from the schools in your very district.

Sen. Davis, you represent a district that borders three different states – Tennessee, Georgia, and South Carolina. They all rank better than NC on the aforementioned chart. Considering that Mr. de Ville is a veteran teacher and a member of the Hope Street Fellows, you should be thanking him for informing his district and elected officials what will help make your district thrive.

To be someone who claims he is very proud to be among the current leadership in Raleigh, then you must be very proud of the fact that six different times you have been a part of unconstitutional laws and legal actions – gerrymandering of districts, the redrawing of Wake County districts, NCAE automatic deductions, judicial retention elections, and the Voter ID law. Furthermore, your stances on same-sex marriage and HB2 are well documented and both have been (or will be) overruled by the Constitution of the United States in the court system.

It seems to me that the Jim Davis who created the iconic Garfield comic strip has a much firmer grasp of reality here in North Carolina than you do.

The Contradiction of Educational Reform and the Paradox of Great Teachers

Contradiction versus paradox. They are not that different, but in actuality they are.

Merriam Webster defines a “contradiction” as,

  • : the act of saying something that is opposite or very different in meaning to something else
  • : a difference or disagreement between two things which means that both cannot be true

Here are some examples:

  • “Do what I say, not as I do.”
  • “Sure the food is fresh. We microwave it right here.”
  • “After I work out at the YMCA, I go to Krispy Kreme and reward myself with a dozen donuts.”
  • Corporate reform initiatives work well in public education.

Merriam Webster defines a “paradox” as,

  • : something (such as a situation) that is made up of two opposite things and that seems impossible but is actually true or possible
  • : someone who does two things that seem to be opposite to each other or who has qualities that are opposite
  • : a statement that seems to say two opposite things but that may be true

Here are some examples:

  • “You can’t keep it unless you give it away.”
  • “You must surrender to win.”
  • “You learn to fail before you learn to succeed.”
  • Teachers still raising student achievement in the face of debilitating reform measures.

I make mention of public education because there may be no other profession/field/public service that shows the contradiction versus paradox relationship so well.

Since the inception of the No Child Left Behind initiative, American public education has been a hotbed for reform after reform to link student achievement and teacher/school effectiveness to standardized tests. That movement was even further pushed with Race to the Top. And some states like North Carolina have taken so many steps to reform education in such a small time that the shoes of change have no souls/soles left while walking a path with no map.

Contradiction #1You can measure standardized students with standardized tests. Student achievement and student growth are not the same thing. One is a measurable with controlled variables and treats students as a number or a statistic. Student growth is taking the individual student and assessing authentically where he/she began and how far he/she grew to a goal.

If one looks at how schools are graded in North Carolina, then he will see that “test scores” are taken into account much more in assigning school letter grades than student growth. If you look at the grades for schools in NC this past year, you will not only see a lot of high-poverty schools showing up in the “D” an “F” range, but if you look really closely, you will see that these schools do a lot to help students grow.

Contradiction #2There is a one-size fits all curriculum and pedagogical approach for all schools. Not so. Different student populations have different obstacles that may affect student growth like poverty, economic development of the area, access to educational opportunities outside of school, etc. Factors that affect the lives of students outside of class can have everything to do with how they perform in class.

Contradiction #3Giving schools a certain amount of money is the same thing as fully funding them. The state of North Carolina makes many claims that it is spending more money overall on public schools than ever before. However, the state of North Carolina is spending less money per pupil than before the Great Recession. The contradiction here is that just because there is “more” money does not mean that schools are fully funded. Population growth alone can expose that contradiction.

Contradiction #4Allowing for-profit entities to run charter schools, Achievement School Districts, and virtual high schools means you are progressive. It really means you are re-forming education so that someone can make a profit from tax payer money.

Contradiction #5Vouchers work well for students. Ask Milwaukee. Ask any other major system that implemented them if vouchers really worked. The only true statement that can be said about the use of vouchers is that it takes money from the very public schools that need the money in the first place to hire the people and get the resources to educate each student effectively.

Contradiction #6Class sizes do not matter to student performance. North Carolina literally removed class size caps. Any public school teacher could vouch that class size means so much when it comes to student/teacher interaction.

Contradiction #7Teachers with tenure are the ones who are burdening the system. Actually, teachers with due process rights cannot just be dismissed with the swish of a wand. Their 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.

And there are many more contradictions that could be listed.

Now here’s the lone paradox, and to paraphrase a quote from Andreas Schliecher* – Despite the many, politically-motivated reform efforts by Raleigh and the characterizations by many that public school teachers have an easy job with short hours and months off in the summer, the fact is that our dedicated and successful teachers work long hours all year long to educate students and educate themselves without many needed resources and support on the legislative level.

I’ll take that paradox over all of the contradictions any day.

 

 

 

 

The original quote is, “Despite the characterization of some that teaching is an easy job, with short hours and summers off, the fact is that successful, dedicated teachers in the U.S. work long hours for little pay and, in many cases, insufficient support from their leadership.”

Open Letter to Gov. McCrory and the NCGA Concerning Bonus Pay for Teachers

Dear Gov. McCrory and members of the North Carolina General Assembly,

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

I will be receiving $2,000 in bonuses this year for having a certain number of students pass the AP English Language and Composition Exam for the 2015-2016. Many of you may think that it will somewhat ameliorate tensions with public school teachers like me. I do not think it will at all. I feel that it just exacerbates the real problem: lack of respect for all public school teachers.

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

I have read about this provision of bonus money frequently in the summer. It’s in the budget that the governor is expected to sign this week, a provision adding bonus pay for teachers of Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, CTE, and 3rd grade. As the News and Observer reported this week (http://www.newsobserver.com/news/politics-government/state-politics/article89154042.html),

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. I do not need a carrot stick. If getting a bonus to get students to perform better really works, then this should have been done a long time ago. But it does not. I do not perform better because of a bonus. I am not selling anything. I would like my students and parents to think that I work just as hard for all of my students in all of my classes because I am a teacher.

2. This creates an atmosphere of competition. I did not get into teaching so that I could compete with my fellow teachers and see who makes more money, but rather collaborate with them. Giving some teachers a chance to make bonuses and not others is a dangerous precedent.

3. I did not take those tests. The students took the tests. Sometimes I wish that I could take the tests for them, but if you are paying me more money to have students become more motivated, then that is just misplaced priorities. These students are young adults. Some vote; most drive; many have jobs; many pay taxes. They need to be able to harness their own motivation and hopefully I can couple it with my motivation.

But many of these students are taking eight classes, participating in extracurricular activities, and helping families. Plus all of the testing that we put on students that takes away from actual instructional time is staggering. Sometimes, I am amazed at what our students actually accomplish in light of the gravity they are placed under.

4. I was not the only person who taught them. To say that the success of my students on the AP English Language and Composition Test solely rested on my performance is ludicrous. While the cliché’ “It takes a village” might be overused, I do believe that the entire school’s faculty and staff has something to do with not only my students’ success, but my own. The content, study skills, time management, discipline that students must exercise to pass the AP test certainly did not all come from me. Everyone on staff, every coach, every PTSA volunteer has helped to remove obstacles for students so they could achieve.

5. Bonus pay does not work. It’s like merit pay. There is really no evidence that it helps public schools. Remember the ABC’s from the late 1990’s and the early 2000’s? Yep, I do too.

6. The state does not have a reputation of fully funding their initiatives. Again, remember the ABC’s? I still do. Those bonuses dried up because they were not fully funded. And after the bonuses are taken away in the future (which they probably will), will the expectations of student performance be lessened? History says that it will not.

7. My class is not more important as others. They all matter. I wrote Rep. Stam last fall concerning his views on merit pay and what subjects were more important than others,

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

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

“Effective public schools are collaborative communities, not buildings full of contractors who are determined to outperform others for the sake of money. And when teachers are forced to focus on the results of test scores, teaching ceases from being a dynamic relationship between student and teacher, but becomes a transaction driven by a carrot on an extended stick. Furthermore, the GOP-led NCGA still does not seem to acknowledge that student growth is different than student test scores. When some of our colleagues deal with students who experience more poverty, health issues, and other factors, then how can you say that those teachers do not “grow” those students when an arbitrary test score is all that is used to measure students?”

9. This is a reward, but far from showing respect. It’s an election year. Many teachers got a raise, but again that is an “average” raise. Bonuses in this case seem more like “hush money” and a means to brag that you seem to care about teacher compensation. But if you really respected teachers, you would do more for them than give “bonuses” to a few of them. You would reward them with salaries comparable with the rest of the nation. You would restore due-process rights for new teachers, you would give back graduate degree pay, you would stop measuring schools with a defeatist model, and you would restore longevity pay.

10. It’s pure electioneering. There is uncontrolled charter school growth. There are loosened sanctions on for-profit virtual schools. There are massive amounts of money going to Opportunity Grants which will no doubt fill the coffers of schools that do not even teach the same curriculum as those teachers you want to “reward” with these bonuses. There is HB2, HB3/TABOR, and an ASD district still out there. There is the lowered per pupil expenditure. All of this affects the very schools that you think a bonus will help to hide.

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

Stuart Egan, NBCT
West Forsyth High School

Another Open Letter to Fellow NC Public School Teachers – We Are Strong in Numbers; Therefore, VOTE!

The current General Assembly should be very scared of us public school teachers and our supporters. That’s because what had originally looked like an election year to simply resupply the NCGA with more conservatively minded demagoguery has now morphed into a debate about how our state government should serve citizens and fully fund our public schools. This GOP-controlled General Assembly and its governor have unintentionally but successfully turned the focus of November’s elections to the vitality of communities (HB3), the fair treatment of all our citizens (HB2),  and the right to a quality public education (explicitly defined by Section 15, Article 1 of the NC Constitution).

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

Those running for the General Assembly in November knew that two years ago; they just didn’t seem to care. They knew it when they attempted to buy teachers’ rights to due process for $500 million after their attempt to eliminate it was declared unconstitutional. They knew it when they froze pay scales and then offered “average” raises to cloud the truth. They knew it when they abolished the Teaching Fellows Program. They knew it when they allowed unregulated charter schools to take money earmarked for public schools. They knew it when they created Opportunity Grants. They knew it when they allowed for an Achievement School District to come to our state.

They know that we are losing more continuity and stability among our teaching staffs. If this trend continues at the current pace, the turnover rates in schools will be beyond detrimental to the foundation of public education, and continue to be a signal to aspiring teachers to not even enter the profession. And this is in a state that has highly regarded college educational programs.

Considering the amount of counterproductive measures placed on our public schools today, the fact that we teachers still educate our kids to a high degree of effectiveness tells me that North Carolina’s teachers are still passionate and of merit. Teachers do not define themselves through partisan, political definitions; they define themselves by a duty to educate students and as a team of professionals working together, not individual contractors whose service is dictated by a yearly indenture.

And no acronym or initiative (NCLB, EOG, EOC, AYP, PLAN, ABC, AP, PLAN, PSAT, RttT (Race To The Top), Common Core, ASW, AMO, EVAAS, NCCLAS, NCEES, IEP’s, 504’s, PD, PEP, PDP, PLC, PLT, READY, SCOS, SIT, SIP, STEM, Title I, Title III, and Title IX) can take away the most vital component of education: the student-teacher relationship. When that teacher is respected and valued, then that teacher is more likely to stay. But we have to help ourselves and vote. We have to educate others and get them to vote.

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

I strongly urge anyone in North Carolina who cares about public schools to vote this November. If you know anyone in North Carolina who is registered to vote, then please encourage them to do so. You are in a state where public education is under assault by the private sector posing as reformers. If our public school system is to recover and thrive, then this trend must stop.

Open Letter to Fellow NC Public School Teachers – What We Do Cannot Really Be Measured

Public school teachers,

You can’t really be measured.

In fact, those who are measuring you do not have instruments complex enough to really gauge your effectiveness.

If you are a public school teacher in North Carolina, you are always under a bit of a microscope when it comes to accountability. Everybody in the community has a stake in the public education system: students attend schools, parents support efforts, employees hire graduates, and taxpayers help fund buildings and resources.

But there are those who really question the path that public education has taken in North Carolina and lack confidence in our teachers and their ability to mold young people. The countless attacks waged by our General Assembly on public schools is not a secret and part of that is framing teachers as the main culprit in our weakening schools.

Why? Because it is easy to manage data in such a way that what many see is not actually reflective of what happens in schools. For example:

  • We have a Jeb Bush school grading system that “failed” schools where wonderful learning is occurring.
  • We have lawmakers allowing charter schools to be created with tax payer money without much regulation.
  • We have a voucher system that is allowing people to send children to schools that do not even have to teach the same standards as public schools.
  • We have virtual charter schools that have loose regulations.
  • We have an Achievement School District established even though no real evidence exists in its effectiveness.

Since you are a government employee, your salary is established by a governing body that probably does not have a background in an educational career. The standards of the very curriculum that you must teach may not even be written by educators. And the tests that measure how well your students have achieved are usually constructed by for-profit companies under contract from the state government. Those same tests are probably graded by those very same companies – for a nominal fee of course. And now that we have less money spent per-pupil in this state than we had before the start of the Great Recession, we are demanded to teach more kids in bigger classes with less resources.

There simply is a lot working against us.

However, if anything could be said of the current situation concerning public education in North Carolina it is that teachers have not failed our students. That’s because you cannot simply measure students and teachers by numbers and random variables. You measure them by their personal success and growth, and much of that cannot be ascertained by impersonal assessments.

Nor can a teacher’s effectiveness truly be measured by “student achievement”. There is more, so much more, working within the student/teacher dynamic. Take a look at the definitions of three words often used in our lexicon: “art”, “science”, and “craft”. These definitions come from Merriam-Webster.

  1. Art: skill acquired by experience, study, or observation
  2. Science: the state of knowing :  knowledge as distinguished from ignorance or misunderstanding
  3. Craft: skill in planning, making, or executing

Every teacher must display a firm foundation in his or her subject area. However, teaching at its source is an art and a craft. A teacher must marry that knowledge with skill in presenting opportunities for students to not only gain that knowledge but understand how they themselves can apply that knowledge to their own skill set.

There are not many people who are masterfully skillful without having to develop their craft. They do exist, but the term “Master Teacher” is usually given to someone who has a “skill acquired by experience, study, or observation.” That “Master Teacher” has perfected an art form and married it to a science. And most of all, that “Master Teacher” understands the human element.

A good medical doctor just does not deliver medicines and write prescriptions. There must be willingness to listen in order to make a diagnosis and then there is the “bedside manner”. A good lawyer does not just understand and know the law. A good lawyer knows how to apply it for his or her client in unique situations. A master chef doesn’t just follow recipes. A master chef takes what ingredients are available and makes something delectable and nourishing. A great teacher does not just deliver curriculum and apply lesson plans; a great teacher understands different learning styles exist in the same classroom and facilitates learning for each student despite the emotional, psychological, social, mental, and/or physical obstacles that may stand in each student’s path.

How schools and students are measured rarely takes into account that so much more defines the academic and social terrain of a school culture than a standardized test can measure. Why? Because there really is not anything like a standardized student. Experienced teachers understand that because they look at students as individuals who are the sum of their experiences, backgrounds, work ethic, and self-worth. Yet, our General Assembly measures them with the very same criteria across the board with an impersonal test.

Ironically, when a teacher gets a graduate degree in education, it is often defined by the college or university as a Master of Arts like a MAEd or an MAT, not a Master of Science. That’s because teaching deals with people, not numbers. When colleges look at an application of a student, they are more concerned with GPA rather than performance on an EOG or EOCT or NC Final.

And when good teachers look at their own effectiveness in their art and craft, they usually do not let the state dictate their perceptions. They take an honest look at the each student’s growth throughout the year – growth that may never be seen in a school report card or published report.

Like many veteran teachers, I have taught the gambit of academic levels and grades from “low-performing” freshmen to high achieving AP students who have been admitted into the most competitive of colleges and universities. And while I may take pride in their passing state tests or AP exams, I try and measure my performance by what happens to those students later in life.

  • When a student ends a “thank you” card because she felt like she learned something, then I did a good job.
  • When a student stops me in the grocery store years after graduating to introduce me to his child, then I made an impression.
  • When I read an email from a student in college who sends me a copy of her first English paper that received one of the three “A’s” given out of a hundred students, then I feel good about what I did in the classroom.
  • When a student comes to visit me on his break and flat out tells my current students that what I did in class prepared him for college, then I was successful.
  • When a former student emails me from half-way around the world to tell me what life is like for her since graduating, then I am validated.
  • When a parent comes to you to ask how his/her child could be helped in a matter totally unrelated to academics, then you have made an impression.
  • When you speak at a former student’s funeral because that student loved your class, then, well that’s just hard to put into words.

None of those aforementioned items could ever be measured by a test. Students do not remember questions on an EOCT or an EOG or an NC Final or a quarter test. They remember your name and how they felt in your class.

However, the greatest irony when it comes measuring a teacher’s effectiveness in the manner that NC measures us is that is it a truer barometer of how much NC is being hurt by this current administration and General Assembly.

  • Think about Medicaid not being expanded.
  • Think that nearly a fourth of our children live in poverty.
  • Think about the Voter ID law.
  • Think about the lax regulations for fracking and coal ash ponds that hurt our water supply.
  • Think about less money per pupil in schools.
  • Think about more money coming from out-of-state Super PACS to fund pilitiacl races here in NC than exists in the operating budgets of many counties.
  • Think about TABOR and HB3.
  • Think about HB2.
  • Think about cut unemployment benefits.

All of those affect students in our schools. And we still do the job. Rather, we still heed the calling.

That’s the best measure of what we do.

That and the drawer where I keep all of those cards and letters because I keep every one of them.