Education

Op-ed: Want to inspire NC educators? Make sure the next state Superintendent has a strong teaching background.

State superintendent Mark Johnson made it official last week: He aspires to be North Carolina’s next Lt. Governor.

And as Johnson prepares to move on, veteran educator Justin Parmenter writes in an op-ed for the Charlotte Observer that the successor to the office needs to have a strong teaching background. As Parmenter explains:

‘As a classroom teacher who has been in North Carolina schools for nearly two decades, I can tell you that our state’s educators would most like to be led by someone who understands firsthand what they are going through — a teacher.

Strong employee morale is essential to a thriving public education system. The morale of educators in North Carolina started rolling downhill with the Great Recession and picked up speed when changes to the composition of our state legislature in 2010 opened the door to many education policy initiatives that have harmed our schools. It hasn’t since had much opportunity to improve.

When the relatively unknown Johnson eked out an election victory in 2016, he did bring a bit of teaching experience to the table. However, it wasn’t a resume that inspired a lot of confidence in teachers. Johnson had taught just two years at West Charlotte High School with Teach for America before leaving the profession for law school, reinforcing criticism of TFA as a stepping stone to elsewhere.

Throughout his tenure as state superintendent, Johnson has been deeply unpopular with many North Carolina’s teachers. He’s criticized thousands of educators who have come to Raleigh to call for increased support for public schools the last two Mays. His personalized learning initiatives have marginalized teachers and downplayed the importance of the human connection between teacher and student in the learning process. These and his many other missteps are undoubtedly rooted in a classroom perspective deficit.

At the federal level, education leadership has suffered from the same problem. According to a poll by Education Week, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has the rare honor of being even less popular with teachers than her boss, Donald Trump. Respondents cited her lack of experience working in public schools as the main reason for their dissatisfaction.

If our next superintendent is to inspire confidence in North Carolina’s teachers, he/she needs credentials that demonstrate a firm grasp not just on policy, but on practice. That firsthand understanding of teaching and learning can only be developed one way: through extensive work in the classroom. A leader whose background allows real empathy with teachers will be more inclined to make sound decisions on their behalf and to involve them in those decisions, leading to a level of buy-in on the part of educators that has been sorely missing under Johnson’s leadership.’

Read Parmenter’s full opinion piece in the Charlotte Observer.

Education

NC Public School Forum to tackle the challenges facing rural schools

In October, the Public School Forum of North Carolina announced the launch of Study Group XVII to examine the unique education challenges facing students across rural North Carolina. The effort will bring together subject matter experts from across the state to identify the unique barriers to success faced by rural students and to develop policy solutions to help rural schools overcome those barriers.

Addressing the unique needs of North Carolina’s rural schools is vital to ensuring that every child in North Carolina has access to the “sound basic education” promised by our state’s constitution. North Carolina has the second-largest rural student population in the country. Compared to their urban counterparts, North Carolina’s rural schools tend to serve more students from families with low incomes. Additionally, rural schools often find it more difficult to attract teachers and provide students with the academic and extracurricular options on offer in urban districts. Finally, many rural districts face declining enrollments, forcing many districts to consider school closures and consolidations that can rend communities.

North Carolina’s rural communities are hamstrung by an economic recovery that has been largely confined to urban areas. 42 of North Carolina’s 100 counties have lost jobs since December of 2007, many concentrated in rural, eastern North Carolina. An economic agenda focused on tax cuts for corporations and wealthy North Carolinians has exacerbated the opportunity gaps faced by rural children.

The Forum’s effort is also timely. A recent report from the Rural School and Community Trust measured the depth and breadth of each state’s rural education challenges and ranked North Carolina as the second-highest priority state behind only Mississippi. The report notes that North Carolina’s rural students are at or below the national median on college readiness indicators. Additionally, the report finds that one in five school-aged children in rural schools lives in poverty and per-pupil instructional spending is more than $1,000 below the national average. They ultimately conclude that North Carolina’s rural schools face “a dire situation that needs urgent attention at the state and community levels.”

The Study Group’s work continues on November 25th with two regional meetings at Edgecombe Community College and Isothermal Community College in Rutherford County from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm. Both meetings are open to the public. Those who wish to attend are encouraged to RSVP here.

Commentary, Education

Editorial: The path to creating better readers in our schools is not about quick fixes

Be sure to check out the lead editorial this morning on WRAL.com. As “Only determined focus, from statehouse to schoolhouse, will fix lagging reading scores” points out, it’s long past time for state political leaders and policymakers to get past their affinity for addressing the state’s educational needs with quick fixes and doing things on the cheap.

This is from the conclusion:

The inability to significantly increase the portion of students who, by the time they are in the fourth grade, have the basic skills to be good learners, represents a lack of determination and focus at the local level of education on up….

This is a crisis. Our education leaders – from the principals’ office and the local school board to the state Board of Education and the superintendent of public instruction – must act. It is their constitutional duty to give every child an equal opportunity for a quality education.

Our courts ruled – more than 22 years ago in the landmark Leandro case – that the state failed in that obligation. Even with a court order, our leaders have fallen so short of their duty that the courts again are preparing to issue fresh directives. At the same time Gov. Roy Cooper’s has a commission working in parallel so the state is poised to move when the court acts.

Our leaders need to engage more directly with those who REALLY know about the challenges students face. They cannot tolerate failure on the current scale.

Good managers, when faced with failures to perform in their organizations, first turn to those on the front lines. Why aren’t they able to accomplish their tasks? Do they lack the materials or time? Do they lack the training? Are their efforts spread too thin (in school, too many students per class, lack of teacher assistants)?

Passing the blame and embracing ethereal fads isn’t teaching any more kids to read.

It is time for officials from the schoolhouse to the statehouse to focus on classrooms – get good teachers in them and give them the environment and tools to do the job.

Amen to that.

Education

Teachers stand with Gov. Cooper despite veto risking pay raises for 2019

By Greg Childress

North Carolina teachers march in downtown Raleigh for better pay and more education funding in May.

It’s looks like North Carolina educators won’t get a pay raise in 2019.

Nevertheless, teachers appear to be standing with Gov. Roy Cooper in opposition to a Republican-led General Assembly’s plan to increase teacher pay by 3.9%.

On Friday, Cooper vetoed the proposed 3.9% pay increase approved by lawmakers for teachers along with a 2% increase for non-instructional staff, arguing the increases simply aren’t enough.

The Democrat favors a compromise that would mean 8.5% raise for teachers over two years. The current Republican proposal would amount to a 2.0% raise in 2019-20 and 1.8% in 2020-2021.

The N.C. Association of Educators (NCAE) issued this statement:

“North Carolina educators rejected the Republican budget as anemic and insulting in June, and we reject essentially the same today,” said NCAE President Mark Jewell. “We stand behind Governor Cooper’s veto of this bill and demand the leaders in the General Assembly stop wasting time on failed veto overrides and unpopular corporate tax cuts and start spending time doing the hard work of governing. Educators, students, and families have been waiting and watching since January, and it is past time for Republican leadership to work in good faith towards the public education priorities they purport to embrace.”

Cooper’s veto of the GOP’s pay plan for educators followed a week of teacher protest across North Carolina over better pay and increased funding for education.

Protests took place in Durham, High Point and other locations around the state.

Teachers also shared their opinions about the governor’s veto on social media.

“The NCGA will not divide us from our students and families by trying to buy us off with minuscule teacher pay raises in exchange for Medicaid expansion, student support staff, raises for classified staff, and everything else our communities need,” Anna Grant, a Community School Coordinator in Durham wrote on her Facebook page.

Cooper’s veto was quickly criticized by Republican leaders.

“Teachers are told to be good, loyal Democrats and their union and their Governor will take care of them. But they need to ask themselves: ‘What has Roy Cooper ever done for me?’ He’s vetoed every single teacher pay raise that’s come across his desk, and he chose today to give teachers nothing for the next two years,” said Senate leader Phil Berger.

And House Speaker Tim Moore offered this: “Instead of having more money over the holidays, teachers will continue to wait for Gov. Cooper to put their needs ahead of other issues.”

Rhonda Dillingham, executive director of the N.C. Association for Public Charter Schools, said Nov. 8 will be remembered as the “true Black Friday in North Carolina.”

“With his veto of SB354, the “Strengthening Educator Pay Act,” the Governor [Cooper] has dashed the hopes of our state’s teachers, making their ability to care for their families more difficult,” Dillingham said in a statement. “Instead of looking forward to the holidays with excitement, our state’s teachers will once again be forced to tighten their belts. North Carolina’s teachers deserve better! North Carolina’s charter schools stand with our teachers!”

At a morning press conference surrounded by teachers wearing red (Red for Ed), Cooper asked Republicans to meet with him to negotiate teacher pay raises.

Cooper said the negotiations wouldn’t be linked to Medicaid expansion, which he sought but did not receive in the budget submitted by lawmakers.

“I will negotiate these educator raises separate and apart from Medicaid expansion and other budget issues,” Cooper said. “There is no Medicaid ultimatum and Republican leaders have clearly used this false premise to shortchange teachers,” Cooper said.

 

 

Education

Governor vetoes four bills, calls on legislators to stop shortchanging educators on pay

Flanked by educators, Governor Roy Cooper announced Friday his intention to veto four bills passed by the Republican controlled legislature. Cooper said it is time for a meaningful raise for North Carolina’s teachers.

The governor, who wants lawmakers to return to the negotiating table, favors a compromise that would mean 8.5% raise for teachers over two years. The current Republican proposal would amount to a 2.0% raise in 2019-20 and 1.8% in 2020-2021.

“These mini-budgets do not value our teachers,” said Cooper in a press conference at the Executive Mansion.

The governor also offered strong words in rejecting the General Assembly’s proposal to further cut a franchise tax for businesses.

Here’s a closer look at which bills earned the veto stamp followed by Gov. Cooper’s explanation of why:

H231 UNC System & Community College Pay:

“The General Assembly shortchanges our universities and community colleges and their employees, as well as state retirees, despite a robust economy and decent raises for other state employees. Higher education is North Carolina’s best economic development tool, and we must invest in education to keep it that way.”

S354 Strengthening Educator Pay Act:

“The General Assembly continues to shortchange teachers and non-certified school personnel like cafeteria workers, bus drivers and teacher assistants, despite a robust economy and decent raises for other state employees. Educators deserve more if our schools are to remain competitive with other states and keep good teachers.”

H398 Information Technology Budget:

“This legislation fails to adequately fund state cybersecurity and data analytics needs while sending a substantial capital earmark outside the state’s proven university system.”

S578 Reduce Franchise Tax:

“This legislation prioritizes corporate tax cuts over investments in education and would further erode state revenue at the same time the General Assembly is underinvesting in schools. Cutting taxes for corporations at more than $1 billion over five years will hurt North Carolina’s future.”

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger was quick to respond on Twitter to the governor’s call to return to the negotiating table:

Members of the North Carolina House and Senate return to Raleigh next Wednesday.