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Commentary

An editorial in this morning’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer (“In NC a teacher shortage develops by design”) tells it like it is:

“One would have thought, when Republican lawmakers raised starting teacher pay in North Carolina to $35,000, that they’d marched into classrooms in North Carolina with sacks of gold and silver. Of course, that salary is hardly a king’s ransom, and teachers with more experience didn’t fare so well. The state remains in the bottom half of the country in teacher compensation.

Teachers also are skeptical of these GOP lawmakers, who have so cheated public education at all levels and undermined conventional public schools with a too-rapid expansion of charter schools and public “scholarships” for children in private schools.

So it should come as no surprise that enrollment in the 15 schools of education in the public university system has dropped – by 30 percent since 2010.

This forecasts a deepening teacher shortage in North Carolina, one that will impact tens of thousands of families.”

After refuting the notion that the decline is driven merely by the fact that young people are more interested in “making a lot of money as opposed to making a difference,” the editorial concludes this way:

“Republicans are going to reap what they sowed with their lackluster support of public education. Unfortunately, the rest of us are going to reap it, too. When there are not enough teachers to get the job done, and classrooms are overloaded and children are being deprived, the political rhetoric from the GOP about lowering taxes on the wealthy and big business for the good of North Carolina isn’t going to pass muster with the people of North Carolina, who support more investment in public education.”

The bottom line: Would-be teachers have eyes and ears. They see and hear how low the morale is amongst a large percentage of current educators — not just because of low pay, but also because of the Right’s multi-front attack on the profession and public education generally. Plenty of people are willing to make sacrifices to become teachers, but understandably, fewer and fewer are willing to endure the constant attacks on the very idea of public education (e.g. the effort to eliminate their professional association, the derisive drumbeat of attacks on “government schools,” the deceptive snake oil “competition” provided by unaccountable voucher and charter schools, the efforts by the religious right to dismantle the teaching of actual science).

Sadly, despite the crocodile tears being shed in some corners, the new numbers are exactly what the ideologues on the right had in mind decades ago when they commenced their effort to dismantle and privatize our public schools. It’s going to take sustained commitment over the next couple of decades for caring and thinking people to roll back the tide.

Commentary

Forsyth County high school teacher Stuart Egan has a couple of “must reads” you should check out this morning.

Number One is this open letter from the main N.C. Policy Watch site to State Rep. Paul Stam in which he dissects some of Stam’s recent comments about what’s needed in our public schools. Here’s Egan on Stam’s call to evaluate teachers and pay the “best” ones more:

“You said in the interview that ‘we do not pay our best teachers enough and we pay our ‘unbest’ teachers too much.’

I have not really heard the terms ‘best’ and ‘unbest’ used on actual teacher evaluations and would very much like to hear what how such labels might be applied in the real world. But I believe you are touching on teacher effectiveness and teacher evaluations as currently measured by the state.

The problem with teacher evaluation processes in the state of North Carolina is that they are arbitrary at best. No one single protocol has been used to measure teacher effectiveness in your tenure as a legislator. That’s because there has not been one that accurately reflects teacher performance. In fact, during your tenure in Raleigh we have switched curriculum and evaluation protocols multiple times. It seems that teachers are always having to measure up to ever-changing standards that no one can seem to make stand still, much less truly evaluate.”

Click here to read the rest of of the letter.

Number Two is an op-ed in this morning’s Winston-Salem Journal debunking the hokum state leaders have been peddling on the subject of vouchers and charter schools. Again, here’s Egan::

“The original idea for charter schools was a noble one. Diane Ravitch, in ‘Reign of Error,’ states that these schools were designed to seek ‘out the lowest-performing students, the dropouts, and the disengaged, then ignite their interest in education’ in order ‘to collaborate and share what they had learned with their colleagues and existing schools.’

But those noble intentions have been replaced with profit-minded schemes. Read More

Commentary, News

The fact that lots of North Carolina public school teachers have to work at second jobs after the school day is over to make ends meet is not a new story. All across North Carolina, parents, students and administrators regularly encounter teachers working cash registers and mopping floors during the evening hours in an effort to earn extra cash to supplement their frequently pitiful salaries.

The holiday season — a time during which teachers ought to be recharging their batteries in preparation for the New Year — is a time, however, during which this phenomenon is especially widespread and poignant. Reporter Stephanie Carson at Public News Service has the story:

“RALEIGH, N. C. – During your holiday shopping, you may have bumped into your child’s teacher working in a seasonal retail job.

According to many teachers, in most cases it’s not just to earn mad money or take advantage of an employee discount. The average teacher’s salary in North Carolina is slightly more than $45,000 a year, with some making as little as $30,000.

Christina Burchette, a science teacher at a North Carolina school, said she has to work at a retail job to pay her bills.

“I’d love to spend more time doing things for my students – spend more time tutoring them, spend more time on lesson plans and things like that,” Burchette said. “But I’m not able to, because I do have to work a second job in order to pay my bills.”

Beginning teachers recently received a small pay raise, but many others got a one-time $750 bonus in lieu of a 2 percent pay raise.

This year, the state had a $400 million surplus.

North Carolina now ranks 47th nationwide when it comes to teacher pay. Burchette says while many citizens claim to value the state’s teachers, few people are willing to fight for action.

“I have a Master’s degree and I don’t feel like I should have a second or third job with that, if it’s something that North Carolina, or our country, really values,” she said.

According to the state Department of Public Instruction, the teacher turnover rate for last school year was almost 15 percent. That’s up for 11 percent in the 2010-2011 school year.”

Click here to read the story at the Public News Service website.

Commentary

TeachersIn case you missed it, yesterday’s lead editorial in the Fayetteville Observer did a fine job of summing up the continuing war on public school teachers being waged by the state’s political leadership:

After decrying the large teacher shortages that plague school systems across the state and some recent national surveys that put the state at the bottom of the pack for its treatment of teachers (and which also describe a decade-long spiral in North Carolina) , the editorial says this:

“Add to that the legislative dismantling of the state’s teacher-assistant program, lawmakers’ assault on the association that is a weak version of a teachers union, and an attempt to end teachers’ also-flimsy tenure rights, and it’s easy to see why they’re wearing out the exit door.

A pay raise for new teachers, hiking their starting salary to $35,000, may help attract talent to North Carolina schools, but it won’t keep them here for long, because more experienced teachers have made little or no salary headway.

That 10-year trend should be a reminder, too, that the decline in teacher salaries – from around the national median to something approaching the bottom of the barrel – is a bipartisan exercise. It started while Democrats controlled the legislative and executive branches, then was pushed along by the Republicans when they took over.

Our lawmakers can pursue all the educational reform in the world, but it won’t work until we can attract and keep good teachers. We’ll do that when we boost salaries back to the national median.

Let’s be clear: Without a great K-12 education system, most of our other goals are out of reach. And without good, well-paid teachers in our classrooms, our education initiatives will fail.”

Click here to read the entire editorial.

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.