The nation’s top teachers say family stress and poverty are their students’ biggest hurdles when it comes to learning in the classroom, according to a survey released Wednesday.

Jennifer Dorman, Maine’s 2015 Teacher of the Year, told The Washington Post that helping her students cope with these outside-of-the-classroom barriers to academic success is the most important part of her job.

“But on a national level, those problems are not being recognized as the primary obstacles,” said Dorman.

Scholastic, Inc. partnered with the Council of Chief State School Officers to survey the 2015 state Teachers of the Year. All but ten of the 56 TOYs responded.

Other barriers to student success? Learning and psychological problems, English language challenges, substance abuse, bullying and inadequate nutrition, in that order, were other problems ranked by teachers.

Another finding from the survey, highlighted by WaPo’s Lyndsey Layton, was teachers’ dissatisfaction with analyzing data.

The unpopularity of data is surprising in an era when schools and teachers are urged to adopt data-driven instruction.

Mark Mautone, New Jersey’s Teacher of the Year, relies heavily on data to fine-tune his work with autistic students at an elementary school in Hoboken.

“At the same time, there are other things that do drive instruction — poverty, family stress, all those multiple measures that could affect the outcome,” Mautone said. “Data is important, but if a kid doesn’t have clothes to wear or a pencil to do their homework, the main concern becomes the well-being of the child.”

Read the survey here.


In case you missed it over the weekend, a middle school teacher from Forsyth County named Stuart Egan had a fine op-ed in the Winston-Salem Journal in which he debunked the myth that flawed teachers are somehow the biggest problem facing our public schools. As Egan explained:

“Earlier this year, The Washington Post published a study by the Southern Education Foundation that found an incredibly high number of students in public schools live in poverty. And in April, the journal Nature Neuroscience published a study that linked poverty to brain structure. All three publications confirm what educators have known for years: Poverty is the biggest obstacle in public education.

Yet many “reformers” and North Carolina legislators want you to believe that bad teachers are at the root of what hurts our public schools. Just this past November, Haley Edwards in Time Magazine published an article titled “Rotten Apples” that suggests that corporate America and its business approaches (Bill Gates, etc.) can remedy our failing public schools by targeting and removing the “rotten apples” (bad teachers) and implementing impersonal corporate practices.

I understand the analogy: bad teachers, rotten apples. However, it is flawed. Removing rotten apples does not restore the orchard. Rather, improving the orchard makes for better apples. Teachers are more like farmers, not apples. Students are what are nurtured. What we need to do is improve the conditions in which schools operate and the environments in which our students are raised; we must address elements that contribute to poverty.”

Egan continues with the farming analogy:

“Another fallacy with the rotten apple analogy is that the end product (singular test scores) is a total reflection of the teacher. Just like with farming, much is out of the hands of the education system. One in five children in North Carolina lives in poverty and many more have other pressing needs that affect the ability to learn. Some students come to school just to be safe and have a meal. But imagine if students came to school physically, emotionally, and mentally prepared to learn. Read More

NC Budget and Tax Center

The Budget and Tax Center’s weekly posting of Prosperity Watch takes a look at how North Carolina’s communities are grappling with stark racial income disparities. Economic exclusion has its roots in predatory and discriminatory economic policies dating back centuries.

The harm of that economic exclusion is stark. Communities of color are far more likely to live in poverty than their white counterparts. To match the state’s white poverty rate of 12.3 percent, approximately 464,000 North Carolinians of color would have to be lifted above the poverty line. Racial disparities keep the economy from reaching its full potential to the tune of $63.53 billion, meaning bringing down poverty among people of color is an economic imperative. It’s also a moral imperative too.

Check out the latest Prosperity Watch for the details.


PW 47-2 quality jobs

Six years after the end of the Great Recession, jobs are finally becoming more plentiful in North Carolina, but the overwhelming majority of those jobs don’t pay enough to make ends meet, provide necessary benefits to help families get by, or create sustainable pathways into middle-class prosperity. In short, North Carolina is not creating enough quality jobs—employment opportunities that pay workers enough maintain basic spending on necessities like food and doctor visits, ensure retirement security, and provide paid time off when they or family members are sick. And without enough quality jobs, the middle class will shrink, consumer spending will drop, local business sales will suffer, and the overall economy will contract.

Read More


Working PoorOne of the great myths of the American policy debate is that poor people are poor because they don’t (or won’t) work. While it’s true that unemployment is still a huge problem in many places, it’s also true (and increasingly so) that work is no panacea — especially for people of color.  This is especially and tragically true in states like North Carolina.

For the latest confirmation of this harsh reality, be sure this morning to check out a this new data-rich report by the Working Poor Families Project entitled “Low-income working families: The racial/ethnic divide.” The report  documents how race and ethnicity factor into the poverty of working families and, among other things, highlights the widening gap between white and minority families since the start of the Great Recession. It also looks at differences by geography. Here are the key findings:

  • Among the 10.6 million low-income working families in America, racial/ethnic minorities constitute 58 percent, despite only making up 40 percent of all working families nationwide.
  • The economic gap between white and all minority working families is now 25 percentage points and has grown since the onset of the recession.
  • There are 24 million children in low-income working families and 14 million, well over half, are racial/ethnic minorities.
  • Over 50 percent of Latino, low-income working families have a parent without a high school equivalency degree, compared with 16 percent of whites.
  • Working families headed by minorities have higher incomes in the Mid-Atlantic region, Alaska, Hawaii and parts of the Northeast, compared with minority working families in the upper Midwest and Mississippi Delta regions

Sadly, North Carolina doesn’t fare as well as the “Mid-Atlantic” region. According to the report, more than half (55%) of working families in our state who are racial and ethnic minorities fail to bring home a true “living income” — i.e 200% or more of the official federal “poverty” threshold.  The national average is 47.5% for racial and ethnic minorities. The report also highlights North Carolina’s recent repeal of the state Earned Income Tax Credit as a contributor to this deplorable situation.

Click here to read the entire report. State-by-state data can be found on page 14.