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Senator Tom McInnis (R-Richmond) filed a bill last week that would require all UNC professors to teach no fewer than four courses a semester. It’s a move that, McInnis says, is an effort to make sure classes are not taught primarily by student assistants — but some are concerned it could hamper research and development at the state’s prestigious institutions of higher education.

“There is no substitute for a professor in the classroom to bring out the best in our students,” McInnis said in a statement, according to the Richmond County Daily Journal. “I look forward to the debate that will be generated by this important legislation.”

University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill Professor Stephen Leonard, who teaches political science and is chair of the UNC system-wide Faculty Assembly, said the legislation is nothing more than an attempt to kill public higher education in North Carolina.

“I think it’s pretty simple,” said Leonard. “Talented faculty would start looking for work out of state, it would be hard to attract junior faculty coming out of graduate school, and it would be impossible to attract senior faculty who bring a lot of resources to our institutions.”

Leonard says the most problematic consequence of the proposed law would be that the discovery and production of knowledge would grind to a halt.

“Which I suppose is okay if you don’t want to cure cancer, fix infrastructure or make new discoveries about manufacturing processes,” said Leonard.

SB 593 would tie professors’ salaries to their course loads—those teaching fewer than four courses each semester would earn less than their full salaries, determined on a pro-rata basis.

The legislation also allows for the salary difference to be made up by an individual campus’ endowment, should they determine a professor should take on a lighter course load in order to conduct research – but Leonard says that’s an untenable scenario for most campuses.

“Good luck with that,” said Leonard. “Almost all of the campuses that are not Research 1 institutions would have a hard time coming up with the funds to do that.”

According to the Richmond County Daily Journal, the bill would result in professors at big research universities like UNC – Chapel Hill finding their course loads nearly double.

The bill comes at a time when the state’s university system is undergoing considerable turmoil thanks to recent controversial decisions to raise tuition, close three academic centers and fire UNC’s widely-praised president, Tom Ross. The system has also been handed substantial budget cuts over the past five years by the state legislature, including a $400 million cut in 2011.

Sen. McInnis did not respond to requests for comment. Read the bill in its entirety below.

News

A bill filed this week by Sens. Wells, Brock, Wade and Soucek would limit school employees’ political activities — and while it only pertains to what teachers can and can’t do during working hours, some are concerned the bill could keep teachers from speaking out altogether on issues they care about.

“I think it could have a chilling effect,” said Guilford County Spanish teacher Todd Warren in an interview with the Greensboro News & Record on Thursday. “Teachers aren’t the most politically active people anyway, but right now there are a lot of people who are afraid for their jobs if they speak out on some of these issues. This could just make that worse.”

Senate Bill 480 would disallow school employees from working on political campaigns during working hours, use the authority of his or her position to secure support or opposition for a political candidate, and use public funds to these ends. Read More

Commentary

It’s been a busy couple of weeks at the General Assembly, now that there’s no longer any snow or ice to contend with (our neighbors in DC are not so lucky on this first day of spring).

Lawmakers have set their sights already in the 2015 session on a number of education policy reforms, and here are some of those bills to track in the weeks ahead.

SB272: Eliminate Personal Education Plans

Filed by Sens. Jerry Tillman and Tom Apodaca, this bill would jettison PEPs, which are intended to provide additional academic supports to at-risk, academically struggling students.

Some teachers are cheering the proposition, saying it’s an unfunded mandate resulting in unnecessary amounts of paperwork. Others worry about taking away helpful interventions from underperforming students in an era of increased accountability. Read more here.

The bill will be heard in a Senate rules committee on a date TBD. A companion bill is in the House. Read More

News

Senator Jerry Tillman (R-Randolph) filed a bill Wednesday that would eliminate the requirement for public schools to offer Personal Education Plans (PEPs), which provide academically struggling, at-risk students with strategic interventions to bring them up to grade-level proficiency.

“Personal education plans are just a lot of paperwork for a lot of students who really just don’t need them,” Sen. Tillman told N.C. Policy Watch on Thursday.

Tillman said he filed the bill to eliminate PEPs because teachers are already saddled with a lot of work, and the good ones already know which students need help.

“The good teachers are doing informal assessments all the time, and they already know what they’re doing. PEPs are just needless paperwork,” said Tillman.

Personal education plans were first introduced in 2001 as a way to help at-risk students who struggle academically yet don’t qualify for an Individual Education Plan (IEP), which are federally mandated for students with disabilities.

The PEPs offer a mechanism for students and parents to work alongside teachers in developing customizable plans that would improve students’ academic achievement. Focused interventions that could be included in the plans include additional tutoring, mentoring, smaller classes and afterschool instruction, among others.

Jane Wettach, Duke University law professor and director of the Children’s Law Clinic, doesn’t dispute that teachers likely already know which students need more help than others.

But the point of the PEPs, says Wettach, is to provide students with additional academic supports outside of the standard academic day, because teachers don’t have the time or means to help all at-risk students during regular hours.

“The thing that PEPs do differently is that they require additional instructional services to be done outside of the normal school day,” said Wettach.

“Even really excellent teachers cannot necessarily in a regular school day provide everything that an at-risk student needs to get to grade level,” Wettach added. Read More

News

Members of the House Education – Universities committee discussed draft legislation Tuesday that would require the UNC School of Government to develop evaluation standards for state agencies to use when implementing pilot programs enacted by the General Assembly.

The impetus for the bill stems from the failure for state agencies to properly manage and assess pilot programs, according to John Turcotte, director of the program and evaluation division at the North Carolina General Assembly.

“Without being disrespectful to my colleagues at DPI, they did not do the pilot project very well,” said Turcotte.

That pilot project, which was enacted by the General Assembly in 2011, directed the Department of Public Instruction and the State Board of Education to manage a pilot program that would test the efficacy of providing driver’s education instruction online.

Turcotte said the pilot program was poorly managed by DPI officials and the methodology for evaluating the pilot was flawed. Toward the end of the program the UNC School of Government intervened to provide assistance, but it was too late in the process.

Turcotte cited a second problematic pilot handled by the Department of Health and Human Services that studied overnight respite services at adult daycare facilities. For that program, said Turcotte, DHHS’ handling resulted in an inability to tell whether or not it was even worth scaling up statewide.

House Bill 72, introduced by  Rep. Hurley (R-Randolph) would require the UNC School of Government to develop standards for pilot projects that lawmakers enact no later than December 1, 2016. The standards would “identify approaches for designing projects that collect appropriate and adequate data for sound evaluation of pilot projects,” according to the bill.

If passed into law, the standards would apply to new pilot programs that begin after June 1, 2017.

Current pilot programs, such as the N.C. virtual charter school pilot program or the Opportunity Scholarships program, also described as a pilot, would not be required to adhere to the new standards.