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fuzzy-math-300x225In case you missed it, one of this morning’s “must reads” is a story posted late yesterday by WRAL reporter Mark Binker about the ongoing controversy over North Carolina’s muddled and troubled new teacher pay plan.  As Binker reports:

When Gov. Pat McCrory wrote to welcome teachers back to the classroom, he touted a “substantial” pay raise that amounted to “an average pay increase of 5.5 percent for teachers.”

That might have been exciting news, except that legislative leaders have been touting a 7 percent average pay raise for more than a month now. House Speaker Thom Tillis trumpets that 7 percent figures as “simple math” in a recent campaign ad for his U.S. Senate campaign.

For educators like Michelle Pettey, a first-grade teacher at Wake County’s Brier Creek Elementary School, that “simple math” doesn’t add up; 5.5 percent doesn’t equal 7 percent and neither number matches the smaller-than-expected pay bump that showed up in her first paycheck of the year.

“No teacher can figure out what happened,” said Pettey, a teacher with 16 years in the classroom who said her actual raise worked out to be something like 1.39 percent over last year’s salary. The single mom whose own kinds are in the school system says she has friends outside the profession who ask her why teachers are complaining about a 7 percent raise.

According to Binker’s story, the confusing new plan has even left one of the state’s most powerful politicians — Senate Rules Committee chairman Tom Apodaca — confused.

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Back to School Series

This is part of a Back to School blog series that highlight various issues to be aware of as the 2014-15 school year kicks off. (See Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5)

It’s that time of year when school starts and the very next week Labor Day is here. It seems to make sense that Back to School week and Labor Day are so close together. It provides the opportunity to discuss those that labor in our public schools. Although, the truth is, there has been a lot of talk about people who work in our public schools.

Most of the discussion is about the pay raise teachers supposedly received. The truth is that many teachers are simply getting their longevity pay that they have already earned. New teachers will see some benefit of the use of the longevity pay but the teachers who have actually put in years will not be getting what they deserve.

New teachers may have higher starting salaries but it comes at a cost. They will not have career status protection which provides teachers with due process rights. Losing due process rights is a heavy price to pay. These teachers will also be working on one year contracts. These one year contracts assure, some say — including people at NCAE, that teachers are now being treated as temporary workers.

It is not only the teachers that will suffer with the one year contracts. School administrators like superintendents and principals will have to deal with the logistical nightmare of having to manage a slew of one year contracts.

Of course, the job of teaching has not become any easier since there will be fewer teacher assistants. Although it was promised that teacher assistants would not be cut in the budget, the truth is that they have.

Perhaps, the most galling thing that has happened to school personnel Read More

Commentary

With all of the incessant battles over testing and standards and privatization, it’s easy to lose sight of the forest for the trees when it comes to public education. Fortunately, a recent New York Times op-ed that was republished in this morning’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer serves to remind us of what’s really most important when it comes to making schools work — namely the presence of a full complement of caring, loving and properly-trained educators and other professionals.

And as the op-ed notes, one group of professionals that has been proven essential in making schools work — especially schools with high percentages of kids from tough home situations — is social workers:

For the 16 million American children living below the federal poverty line, the start of a new school year should be reason to celebrate. Summer is no vacation when your parents are working multiple jobs or looking for one. Many kids are left to fend for themselves in neighborhoods full of gangs, drugs and despair. Given the hardships at home, poor kids might be expected to have the best attendance records, if only for the promise of a hot meal and an orderly classroom.

But it doesn’t usually work out that way. According to the education researchers Robert Balfanz and Vaughan Byrnes at Johns Hopkins, children living in poverty are by far the most likely to be chronically absent from school (which is generally defined as missing at least 10 percent of class days each year)….

The key is to put dedicated social-service specialists in every low-performing, high-poverty school, whether they are employed by the school district or another organization. This specialist must be trained in the delivery of community services, with continued funding contingent on improvement in indicators like attendance and dropout rates.

Putting social workers in schools is a low-cost way of avoiding bigger problems down the road, analogous to having a social worker in a hospital emergency room. It’s a common-sense solution that will still require a measure of political courage, something that all too often has itself been chronically absent.

Of course, merely adding an adequate number of social workers is no panacea for all that ails poor kids or struggling schools. But doing so would be a huge improvement over the current situation and also reenforce the all-too-frequently-forgotten bit of common sense that — whether it’s funding small class sizes, adequate administrative personnel or school nurses — there’s simply no substitute for employing an adequate number of skilled professionals with reasonable workloads when it comes to making our public schools truly successful.

Back to School Series, NC Budget and Tax Center

This is part of a Back to School blog series that highlight various issues to be aware of as the 2014-15 school year kicks off. (See Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4)

Little things can make big differences in children’s lives. Something as simple as arriving to class with food in your stomach can enhance a child’s learning experience. Many schools across North Carolina recognize this and are offering breakfast and lunch to all of their students at no charge this school year.

As part of the nationwide Community Eligibility Program (CEP), high-poverty schools in at least 36 school systems across North Carolina will provide breakfast and lunch to all students free of charge. This effort not only aims to help end childhood hunger – one in five American schoolchildren can’t count on getting enough nutritious food at home – but also aims to enhance the classroom experience of students. Ensuring that children show up in classrooms each day fed and ready to learn increases the chances of students being more focused, attentive, and engaged.

The school year marks the first year in which eligible schools nationwide can participate in CEP. With all students provided breakfast and lunch free of charge, participating schools are no longer required to collect school meal applications, which reduces administrative costs. These cost savings can now be directed towards covering the cost of the school meals that are provided. Read More

Commentary

The following essay was submitted to NC Policy Watch this week by a concerned public school teacher.

North Carolina teachers and the Common Core: Now what?
By Rod Powell

It’s already here—a new school year.

Despite a turbulent summer for North Carolina schools—in which legislators repealed the Common Core, slashed teacher assistant funding, and implemented a controversial teacher pay schedule—educators are back in the classroom, preparing students for a year of rigorous and engaging learning.

But as teachers begin their classes, many are asking the question, “What exactly should we be teaching our students?”

For the past three years, the answer was the Common Core. But now, thanks to the General Assembly, the work teachers have done to hone the standards is for naught.

Governor Pat McCrory has called for a review of the Common Core, with a commission to put new standards in place for the 2015-2016 school year. (Members of the commission have yet to be appointed, even though the September 1 deadline looms.)

But teachers can’t wait till 2015. We have students in our classrooms now. So what should we do? Do we spend countless hours planning our instruction and lesson plans for this year’s classes, only to have to overhaul them for entirely new standards just one year from now?

State superintendent Dr. June Atkinson assures educators that North Carolina will still operate under the Common Core for this school year. I hope teachers can take her at her word. But that doesn’t change the millions of dollars that have gone into developing Common Core materials and professional development—not to mention the thousands of hours that hardworking North Carolina teachers have dedicated to refining their craft and implementing the standards.

All that money and effort—what a waste.

I’ve had some interesting conversations with my teaching colleagues about this murky situation as we prepare for the school year. Read More