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In case you missed it the other day, Asheville writer Martin Dyckman published an excellent essay in the Asheville Citizen-Times that explained the real deal with North Carolina’s toxic and troubling school vouchers program. As Dyckman explained, after describing a push poll/robocall he received from the voucher champions at the Pope-Civitas Institute:

“Two days later, Rep. Paul Stam (R-Wake), the Godfather of vouchers, staged an elaborate press conference to say he wants a fourfold expansion of the program, which costs $10.8 million a year.

Stam didn’t propose abandoning income limits, although they’re scheduled to rise to 133 percent of poverty this year.

But the Civitas robopoll makes it obvious where the camel’s nose is heading.

That’s if the Supreme Court overturns a Superior Court decision that the program is flagrantly unconstitutional.

The pretext for the vouchers is to entitle poor kids to a good private education on the same terms as their more privileged peers.

That’s a fallacy if not a fraud. At $4,200, the maximum voucher is worth only a fraction of what quality private schools often charge; they’re beyond the reach of low-income families despite the subsidy. The public schools budget twice as much per student.”

After citing some N.C. Policy Watch reporting on the religious schools that have been raking in the voucher dough, Dyckman concludes this way:

“This is as flagrant a misuse of public money as it would be to pay the church’s pastor out of the state treasury. Read More

Commentary

Education cutsThis morning’s Winston-Salem Journal provides another example of how absurdly underfunded our public education system has gotten this morning in an editorial about the pay rates North Carolina maintains for teacher assistants.

Starting T.A. pay under the current state schedule works out by my back-of-the-envelope math to something on the order of around $12 an hour. There are plenty of chain restaurant servers who make more and this is well below the state’s living income standard. Stay on the job into middle age or retirement and you might eventually work your way up to $19 an hour.

As the Journal editorial reminds us, this is a preposterous way to treat the people entrusted with educating our children and a lousy way to attract quality employees. The editorial holds up the story of this year’s T.A. of the year — an amazing woman named Andrea Cranfill who has overcome her own disabilities to perform superhuman tasks working with challenged kids .

Cranfill’s service is clearly something akin to mission work performed at a great self-sacrifice. As admirable as this is, however, it shouldn’t have to be this way.  As any teacher will tell you, having a qualified and competent T.A. can make all the difference in transforming a classroom, or even a school itself.

So long as North Carolina is going to avoid the obvious solution of dramatically reducing class sizes to the point at which our teachers can have a reasonable shot at providing each child with the individualized attention each one deserves, the least we can do is pay our T.A.’s a living wage. Right now, we’re not even close.

Commentary, NC Budget and Tax Center, Raising the Bar 2015

Editor’s note: The following post By Dr. Mark Edwards, Superintendent of the Mooresville Graded School District, is the latest installment in “Raising the Bar” — a new series of essays and blog posts authored by North Carolina leaders highlighting ways in which North Carolina public investments are falling short and where and how they can be improved.

A group of visitors to Mooresville Graded School District and Park View Elementary School were walking around the third grade class when a guest superintendent from Missouri asked a young man, “What are you working on?”

The student replied, “I am working on my reading.”

“How are you doing on your reading?” the superintendent followed up.

“Fantastic!” the young man replied, smiling. “Here, I will show you my report.” The student then pulled up a personal profile spread sheet of his reading results.

“See the blue line? That’s me going up two months ahead of my reading level.” The little boy looked at the superintendent and asked, “Do you understand what trajectory means?”

“Well, yes I do,” the superintendent replied.

“Well good then. I will show you my trajectory… See that green line above the blue line? That’s my trajectory. That’s where I’m headed,” the student explained.

“Do you think you can do it?” the superintendent asked.

“I know I can. Because I am in charge of my learning.”

I am encouraged that Gov. Pat McCrory is focusing attention on beginning salaries and funding some efforts to recognize teacher-leaders. In order for North Carolina to actually compete with other states, however, we need to look for significantly broader support. In Mooresville, we are known for our digital conversion and for excellence in student achievement.

The absolute key to our success is the human infrastructure of great teachers, principals and staff going above and beyond the call of duty day after day and year after year. When we recruit against surrounding states like Virginia, South Carolina, and Tennessee, we are facing a six to ten thousand dollar salary disadvantage.

The treatment of our state’s teachers is creating a drastic drop in enrollment in our Colleges of Education throughout North Carolina; furthermore, it is causing veteran teachers to retire ahead of when many planned because they feel disheartened and dishonored. Read More

Commentary
Senator Tom Apodaca

Senator Tom Apodaca

It is becoming increasingly clear that the single, best thing that North Carolina lawmakers could do to aid public education in our state is this: nothing.

Seriously, lawmakers would do our young people, educators, public education officials, employers, and the state at-large an enormous service if they would simply pass one bill each year providing the funding that our schools really need and then get the heck out of the way and check back in five or ten years. No more “ABC’s” of this or that or “Excellent Schools Acts.” Nothing, nada, zip. Just give our professionals the money and the mandate and let them do their jobs.

Unfortunately, the urge to meddle, micromanage and pass half-baked ideas that some lawmaker heard something about over dinner or on Fox News assures that this will never happen. For the most recent example of this apparently irresistible tendency, check out the proposal in the North Carolina Senate to “bill” local schools for the cost of remediation courses that students take in Community College. As NC Policy Watch reporter Sarah Ovaska reported this morning, one of the bill’s key sponsors, Senator Tom Apodaca, thinks this will make a difference:

The desire, Apodaca said, is to make sure the state’s K-12 system is turning out graduates ready to jump into the higher levels of education.

“We’re sending a message to our schools that we want quality coming out,” Apodaca said.

You got that? The premise of the law — as with so many other conservative education proposals in recent years — is that North Carolina can wring better results out of its public schools through sheer force. Rather than addressing poverty, providing universal pre-K, lowering class sizes or investing the money that it would really take to hire the teachers and counselors and other professionals who could perform the miracle of preparing millions of kids for the insanely competitive 21st Century economy (half of whom come from families too poor to afford lunch), the Senate would propose to get better K-12 grads by threatening to take away more money from their schools.

What a great idea! Maybe this can even set a precedent for other parts the education system. For instance, Read More

Commentary
FF-TeachingFellows-400

Photo: NC Public School Forum

In case you missed last week’s Fitzsimon File on the ridiculous and partisan demise of the state teaching fellows program, click here to read it on the website of Raleigh’s News & Observer where it is — even at the height of March Madness — the #1 trending story.

Seems safe to say that the column has touched a nerve with North Carolinians. Now, if only the troubled souls running our state would pay attention for a change.