Archives

Commentary

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.

Read More

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
Bill de Blasio

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio – Image: Official website of the City of New York

In 2014, there are lots of basic public structures and social services that Americans, like the inhabitants in other advanced countries, ought to have a right to take for granted. Paid sick days, paid maternity leave, and free higher education, for example, need to be on any such list.

And here’s another one: free, universal, public pre-Kindergarten.

Fortunately, at least one important American jurisdiction is doing something about it. As this recent New York Times editorial notes, the city of New York kicked off an enormously ambitious program this week to provide public pre-K to 50,000 four-year-olds:

The start of public school on Thursday in New York City should be the usual merry scramble of chattering children and stressed (or relieved) parents. There will also be something new: a fresh crop of 4-year-olds, more than 50,000, embarking on the first day of free, full-day, citywide, city-run prekindergarten.

It’s worth pausing to note what an accomplishment this is. Fifty thousand is a small city’s worth of children, each getting a head start on a lifetime of learning. It is so many families saving the cost of day care or private prekindergarten. It is a milestone of education reform.

The editorial goes on to heap praise on New York mayor Bill de Blasio who made the launch of such a program a key plank in his campaign platform and who now despite plenty of critics — including the Times editorial page — has now made good on his promise.

Let’s hope the program is a rousing success and that, like so many other trends that started in the Big Apple, it catches on all over (even in North Carolina) ASAP.

News

The N.C. Supreme Court denied an emergency motion filed last week by attorneys on behalf of Speaker Thom Tillis, Senate leader Phil Berger and parents to allow taxpayer-funded school vouchers, ruled unconstitutional by a Superior Court judge last month, to be disbursed to private schools immediately while the fate of the program is decided. 

The defendant-intervenors pushing to get school voucher funds out the door filed their motion with the Supreme Court before a written order had been issued by Superior Court Judge Robert H. Hobgood, going against the usual order of business.

The Supreme Court decided to punt the case back to the Court of Appeals today, and because a written order was finally issued by Judge Hobgood late last week, defenders of the school voucher program can once again pursue a temporary stay of his unconstitutional ruling in the lower court, following the normal process.

The Supreme Court’s latest ruling means that those hoping to get school vouchers out to private schools immediately while the final merits of the case are decided now face a potentially weeks-long delay, and it’s unclear how students who have enrolled at private schools with the understanding they would have $4,200 taxpayer-funded vouchers to pay toward their tuition will be affected.

Read the Supreme Court’s ruling below. And for more background on the school voucher legal battle, click here.

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.