As Clayton Henkel and Lindsay Wagner report in the posts below, negotiations over teacher pay have taken what appears to be a positive turn this week at the General Assembly with the announcement that the state Senate is willing to back down on its demand that teachers choose between a pay raise and their right to a measure of due process when it comes losing their jobs.
It’s welcome news, but news that is tempered by the fact that Senators apparently kept their fingers crossed behind their backs while they made the offer. Senate Education Committee chairman Jerry Tillman also told reporters Lynn Bonner and Jim Morrill that the matter of teacher due process (i.e. “tenure”) would be back:
“’We’ll get rid of tenure in 2018,’ he said. ‘That issue will be settled.’”
Perhaps even more frustrating than Tillman’s statement in the aftermath of yesterday’s negotiations, however, were the comments of his Senate colleague and fellow conservative fire-breather, Bob Rucho.
When asked about the Senate’s consistent refusal to budge on its plan to pay for teacher raises by firing thousands of teacher assistants (a plan that even Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger hinted might finally be on the way out) Rucho was his usual aggressive self. As Morrill and Bonner reported:
“But GOP Sen. Bob Rucho of Matthews told fellow lawmakers that years of teacher assistants don’t seem to have made a difference in student performance. ‘That model,’ he told fellow lawmakers, ‘isn’t working.’
‘What the Senate is trying to do is find another model, and that is upgrade the quality of the teacher,’ he said. ‘If you look at the big picture teacher assistants really haven’t functioned as well as people keep bragging about.’”
And just what would that different “model” be, Senator? Paying teachers a little more to handle a lot more kids?
The obvious truth of the matter is that North Carolina could probably do with fewer TA’s if (and it’s a huge IF) it somehow got class sizes down to truly manageable levels. If, for instance, second grade teachers had 15 kids in their classes instead of 25 or 30 (or more), many of them probably could do without their TA’s.
But, of course, to make such a huge shift would take huge new investments and years of thoughtful planning and that’s clearly not what Rucho and his conservative pals have in mind.
For now and for as long as North Carolina keeps its class sizes as high as they are, the idea of firing thousands of TA’s is a preposterous one and the only “plan” of which it is a part is the conservative stratagem to divide and conquer their political adversaries while undermining and privatizing the core functions of government. As one TA said in a comment on Lindsay Wagner’s story from yesterday afternoon:
“I have been a teacher assistant for 19 years and to say I have no positive effect on student achievement and I am not a necessary classroom investment is insane! The people making the decisions on who is necessary in a classroom have never even worked in a classroom. I work every day one on one with children who are below grade level in reading and math to help them so when they leave my class they are on grade level or above. Teachers in kindergarten-second grades need teacher assistants. We ARE necessary to help these children become productive members of society. I would love for Bob Rucho to follow me for a day and see everything I do. He wouldn’t be able to keep up!”