While we’ve heard plenty of back and forth already about teacher pay in 2016, there’s been very little open discussion of teacher assistants. Given the legislature’s propensity for slashing T.A. jobs in the last few years, that silence might be a blessing, some would say.
But yesterday on EdNC, Kerry Crutchfield, longtime budget director for Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, authored a fascinating piece on North Carolina’s annual debate over teacher assistants. Often viewed as a less measurable component of public education, teaching assistants have frequently found themselves on the chopping block.
But Crutchfield argues state lawmakers are making some serious errors, including relying on old data that predates 2001’s No Child Left Behind Law, which seemed to indicate no measurable improvement in student academics produced by a teacher assistant. As Crutchfield notes, that law included major qualification upgrades for classroom teaching assistants.
Crutchfield goes on to make a series of recommendations for lawmakers if teaching assistants return to the forefront this year, taking special care to argue how essential such positions are in kindergarten classrooms.
Do we need teacher assistants in every kindergarten classroom? Absolutely!
Do we need teacher assistants in every grades 1-3 classroom? Probably not, but we do need some number of additional teacher assistants in every elementary school to provide planning time and other support for those teachers, plus to drive buses in many counties. My assessment is that we need at least as many teacher assistants as the current level of funding provides, and probably a few more per school.
Do we need additional teachers to reduce class sizes? Not unless we can get the average class size down to the 15 students that research suggests is valuable, and I don’t think we will ever be able to afford to do so, and I don’t think the quality teachers will be available to be hired.
Should the General Assembly fund fewer teacher positions and more technology and teacher training? While many educators want to argue that the General Assembly can/should fund both more teachers and more dollars for technology and teacher training, I make the counter-intuitive argument that fewer teachers not only frees up dollars that could be used for teacher support but likely also makes it easier to provide a quality education for all students in our current teacher shortage environment. However, the funding for teacher support has to come before, or at least simultaneous with, any reduction in numbers of teacher positions. The General Assembly currently provides no funding for teacher training or teacher planning time, a pittance for technology, and a teacher pay plan that has haphazardly rewarded some quality teachers, but not nearly all, with no differentiation based on quality and not nearly enough differentiation based on experience (e.g. a fifth year teacher earns the same as a first year teacher).