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An editorial in today’s Wilmington Star-News does an excellent job of explaining why the ranks of North Carolina teachers and teachers in training are thinning:

“Apparently, a lot fewer people want to be teachers in North Carolina.

Gee. Wonder why?

Alice Chapman, vice president for academic programs in the University of North Carolina system, told the N.C. Board of Education that enrollment in undergraduate and graduate education programs — essentially, the teacher-track course at the state’s public colleges — has declined by 30 percent since 2010.

The brain drain has slowed a bit, Chapman noted; in 2014-2015, the drop-off was just 3.4 percent. Still, she called the trend ‘very concerning.’

That’s an understatement. With North Carolina hovering around 42nd place out of the 50 states in how much we pay teachers, we’re not likely to draw very many new teachers from somewhere else. The UNC figures mean our homegrown supply of teachers is shrinking, even as school enrollments grow.

Now, before the Great Recession, teacher salaries in North Carolina stood very near the U.S. median. Legislators — in both Democrat and Republican years — chose to put off hard financial decisions by putting off raises. Now we’re seeing the result.

This year, with a $450 million surplus in the bank, our Honorables gave a 2 percent raise — but only to beginning teachers. The rest had to content themselves with the $750 one-time-only bonus other state employees got.

The state Department of Public Instruction reports a teacher turnover rate of 15 percent last year — which means teachers moving on to other jobs. Earlier, the department found that 1,082 North Carolina teachers took jobs in other states last year, roughly triple the number who moved away in 2010.

Of course, money isn’t everything. In the past, though, many teachers chose the security of steady employment and the promise of a pension.

Even that, however, seems to be eroding. Read More

Commentary

Leslie WinnerIn case you missed it, the best op-ed of the weekend was written for the Charlotte Observer by outgoing Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation Executive Director Leslie Winner. In “A school that’s trying, succeeding – and gets a D,” Winner offers a devastating takedown of North Carolina’s absurd school grading system (i.e. the one that Senator Phil Berger modeled on Jeb Bush’s Florida scheme).

In the op-ed, Winner looks at the remarkable achievements of a middle school in Hamlet, North Carolina that has, against all odds, made tremendous progress in lifting the performances of its students, retaining good teachers and overcoming the daunting challenges that confront rural, high poverty schools. The numbers she reports are truly impressive.

“In 2015, 88 percent of the students exceeded expected growth, meaning they made a year or more of academic progress that school year and only 11 percent of teachers left, four out of 36, impressive for a high poverty, rural middle school.”

What’s more, school suspensions are down by 75%.

And the reward for principal Jim Butler and his staff? A Winner reports, the state of North Carolina gave the school a “D.” Again, here’s Winner:

“That’s because, under the State’s school grading system, 80 percent of the grade depends on what portion of students are on grade level, and all the work those teachers did to enable the students to achieve high academic growth, getting a year or more of learning that year, only counts for 20 percent of the grade.”

The point of Winner’s column is not to say that everything is hunky dory in Hamlet. The school and the community obviously have lots of progress still to make. But it’s a testament to the clumsy and destructive ham-handedness of North Carolina’s school grading system that it would brand such a school with, in effect, a scarlet “D.’ As she notes in conclusion: Read More

Commentary

school suppliesIn case you missed yesterday’s Fitzsimon File, be sure to check out the fascinating and damning find from the recent state budget that Chris highlights.

It turns out that conservative state lawmakers have been bragging in the aftermath of the 2015 session about how they revived a tax break for teachers that they previously put on the books in 2011 and then allowed to expire in 2013. The tax break provides a small deduction for teachers (at least, those well off enough to itemize deductions) for their out-of-pocket costs for purchasing classroom supplies up to $250. This means that if a teacher takes the full deduction — meaning they spent $250 or more on supplies — they would save a whopping $14.75 on their state tax bill!

You really can’t make this stuff up. As Chris noted yesterday:

“It [the tax deduction] reimburses teachers for [a tiny portion] of their purchases but also reminds them that the folks currently running things in Raleigh have no intention of properly funding the schools. And they are counting on teachers themselves to pick up the slack.

Thanks to cuts in recent sessions, there are now 7,500 fewer teacher assistants in the classroom before the recession.

Taking the philosophy of the tax credit for supplies to its logical conclusion, teachers who don’t like it and need the extra help in the classroom should stop complaining and hire the TAs themselves and pay them personally. Maybe lawmakers will reward them with another tax break worth a few dollars.

That’s what it has come to in our public schools. Adequately funding the classrooms is apparently no longer on the table.”

The bottom line: It’s hard to know what’s more laughably outrageous — the notion that lawmakers would underfund schools and toss this minuscule crumb in the first place or that they would then go on to brag about it as some kind of real achievement. Whichever the case, it’s clear that: a) state leaders continue to treat North Carolina school teachers as so many disposable units and b) the cynicism surrounding their miserly and shortsighted policy decisions knows few bounds.

Commentary

With lawmakers on the verge of passing controversial legislation to expand funding for charter schools at the expense of traditional public schools, yet another voice is speaking out against the proposal.

Proposed charter school bill masks true budget issues

By Amy Wamsley and Lynn Michie

There are few things that stir a dust-up among education advocates like the issue of charter schools. Even among our own board of directors and members of Western North Carolina for Public Education (WNC4PE), we don’t agree on the value and role of charter schools in our communities and our region. But one thing we all can and do agree on is that making our state’s public education budget a scrap heap for different viewpoints to fight over is not just bad public policy – it’s very bad for our children.

That’s exactly what HB539 does. It once again pits traditional public schools and charter schools against one another for funds that are hard-earned and precious. In a nutshell, HB539 would redirect a portion of funds used by traditional public schools to public charter schools during a time when all of North Carolina’s public schools are inadequately funded to meet the diverse needs of all our students.

There is no doubt that there will be vehement argument and outcry on both sides of the debate about HB539, and that debate will mask the true issue at hand: public schools, traditional or charter, in North Carolina are still woefully underfunded.

Yes, the budget just passed included some tiny gains, such as the promised raise for first-time teachers and a stay of execution for thousands of teacher assistant jobs. But the fact remains that North Carolina’s leadership have yet to step up and fulfill their obligations to the taxpayers of the state to provide “a sound basic education.” Not making additional cuts is not the same as making investments.

Let’s put it in perspective. Read More

Commentary

There were two new and great editorial page “must reads” this past weekend on the state’s education wars.

Number One was Gene Nichol’s fine essay in Raleigh’s News & Observer on the public school teachers who continue to fight for their children and profession despite the ongoing assault by state lawmakers.

“I think [teachers NaShonsda] Cooke, [Angela] Scioli and [Brendan] Fetters knew what they were signing up for. This path has never been strewn with rose petals. I know they didn’t expect, however, to be officially derided for their efforts. ‘The elephant in the room,’ Fetters explains, ‘is the constant claim that we are failing our students.’

The politicians who accuse them, of course, never go to their schools, never talk to the teachers. They do, though, ‘take away our teaching assistants, run good teachers off to other states, give us bigger classes, cut our budgets and disparage our schools,’ Cooke says.

It’s not lost on teachers of high-poverty children that all the current political energy is directed toward vouchers and charter schools, draining already inadequate resources. They “evaluate us on matters outside of our control,” Cooke says, “pronounce us broken, and then make it tougher to do our work.”

Cooke’s own daughter attends one of the high-poverty Durham schools receiving an F on the state’s new scorecard. ‘I know the greatness of what they do in that school. I’d never move her,’ Cooke says. She gets angry when her daughter’s teachers are maligned by people who don’t know what they’re talking about.

It’s one thing, I suppose, to wage war on public education. It’s another to shamelessly defame in the process.”

You can read the rest by clicking here.

Essay #2 comes from the Greensboro News & Record and it takes down the absurd an inappropriate partisanship that marked the firing of UNC President Tom Ross (which has been confirmed recently in emails released to N.C. Policy Watch and other news outlets). As the N&R Notes:

“The indication of misguided and unfair partisan attitudes toward Ross raises concerns about the next president. The Board of Governors won’t serve the people of the state well if it limits its choices to only Republican candidates. Read More