Education, News

North Carolina teacher makes Time cover in feature on underpaid teachers

Raleigh teacher NaShonda Cooke features on the September cover of Time. (Source: Time)

A North Carolina teacher is the cover star for Time magazine.

However, the educator features in a piece on American teachers’ struggles to make ends meet, The News & Observer reports.

The cover photo depicts NaShonda Cooke, a teacher at Carroll Magnet Middle School in Wake County.

Teacher pay has been on the front-burner in North Carolina politics in recent years, with more than 20,000 educators and advocates swarming Raleigh this spring to protest lagging K-12 funding under the Republican-controlled N.C. General Assembly.

From the N&O‘s story:

Cooke is on one of three different covers for the Sept. 24 issue of Time that shares the stories of various U.S. teachers talking about how hard it is to make a living. Cooke, 43, a teacher at Carroll Middle School in Raleigh, shares about how despite having 20 years of experience she skips doctor’s appointments to save on the copay and can’t afford to fix her car or save for her children’s future.

“My coworkers are just grateful that I’m speaking out in terms of teachers having a tough time financially,” Cooke said in an interview Wednesday. “Most of us still have a hard time taking care of our families.”

The Time article comes during a year where teachers around the country held marches, protests and in some cases strikes to protest working conditions.

On Wednesday May 16, 2018, the opening day of the legislative session, educators and their supports from across the state traveled to Raleigh to demand more funding for public education.

Cooke says she makes about $69,000 a year — which is higher than the $50,861 average salary for a North Carolina teacher estimated by the National Education Association. Cooke says her salary reflects all the extra duties she does at school, her extra pay from being a nationally certified teacher and how she’s grandfathered into a program that used to give extra pay to teachers who have advanced degrees.

“Before we judge that she doesn’t make enough, we need to acknowledge that there are millions of families in North Carolina that would love to make $69,000 a year and the benefits she receives,” said Terry Stoops, vice president of research for the John Locke Foundation, a conservative think tank in Raleigh.

Cooke said that while she earns more than many teachers, she’s also a single mother who has to use 30 percent of her salary to pay her rent in Raleigh. She also has to pay a variety of other expenses, including student loans and rising health insurance costs.

Part of the reason she left the Durham Public School System in 2017 was that the Wake County school system paid more, Cooke said.

Cooke worries about saving enough to pay for her 14-year-old daughter’s college education. She also has to deal with the needs of her 11-year-old daughter, who has autism.

“I can’t tell you how many letters I got this summer that said final notice,” Cooke said in the Time article. “It’s not about wanting a pay raise or extra income. It’s just about wanting a livable wage.”

The Time article also comes as state Republican legislators have trumpeted five consecutive years of teacher pay raises as part of this year’s election campaign.

“While there is always more work to be done, the facts speak for themselves — teacher pay has increased dramatically under Republican leadership,” Bill D’Elia, a spokesman for Senate leader Phil Berger, said in a statement. “We thank Ms. Cooke for her service but it’s important that we put this in perspective; when Democrats last controlled the General Assembly, thousands of state-funded teaching positions were eliminated, teachers were furloughed and their pay was frozen.

“We’ve passed five consecutive teacher pay raises, giving teachers an average $8,700 — or nearly 20 percent — increase to their base salary since 2014, with close to half of all public school teachers in the state receiving at least a $10,000 pay raise. Even according to the national teacher union’s own rankings, North Carolina ranked #2 in the U.S. for fastest rising teacher pay from 2016 to 2017.”

But Cooke said the recent raises still leave teachers making less than what they did before the recession of the late 2000s, when adjusted for inflation.

Cooke is getting the national attention after a life of being what she calls an advocate for higher teacher pay and education spending. She spoke last year in Durham as part of “A Day Without A Woman” national protests and urged fellow educators to take part in the May 16 mass teacher protest in Raleigh.

agriculture, Environment, News

After Florence, the “unequal distribution of catastrophe” in North Carolina

A flooded neighborhood in Jacksonville. (Photo: Lisa Sorg)

Since Hurricane Florence dropped more than 30 inches of rain on parts of North Carolina, Policy Watch’s Lisa Sorg has been dutifully tracking the environmental catastrophes — many of them, quite simply, predictable in nature.

But if you missed it, Duke University law professor Jedediah Purdy authored an illuminating take Tuesday in The New Yorker on the environmental injustices made apparent by the storm, and its deleterious effect on agricultural operations in the state.

From The New Yorker:

It is unsettling, and maybe emblematic of many American lives today, to perch safely but uneasily on the edge of catastrophe. Rainfall in eastern North Carolina passed thirty inches during Hurricane Florence, cutting off the coastal city of Wilmington from road access, and this week the state’s rivers are swelling as they return the water to the Atlantic. The Neuse River is menacing Goldsboro, home of the Reverend William Barber’s congregation, and the Cape Fear River is swamping Fayetteville, near Fort Bragg. The storm has killed at least thirty-two people. It left my neighborhood in Durham, a hundred and forty miles inland, damp and ruffled by breezes. Warm humidity streaked the outside of air-conditioned windows with condensed water, and people stayed indoors watching weather updates.

But we prepared here—overprepared, even. The city of Durham shuttered its non-emergency offices last Thursday afternoon, and public schools closed throughout the Research Triangle. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Duke, where I teach, shut down classes for nearly a week and urged students to evacuate. Big-box stores were stripped of water, batteries, and other emergency supplies, and gas stations were empty. At home, we stockpiled jugs of water, dried fruit and canned beans, candles.

Disaster planning requires an accounting of everyday dependencies. How far can we drive if there is no gas for sale? Without electricity, how many hours of light do we have? If the stores aren’t restocked, when will we run out of food? Once our phones aren’t working, how many phone numbers do we actually know? How many of the people we know live within walking distance? As we pull the plug on one vital system after another, tasks that seemed straightforward—making a cup of coffee, or washing clothes—turn out to be a note in a technological symphony.

A recent study by the geologist Jan Zalasiewicz and twenty-four co-authors estimated the total weight of human infrastructure—buildings, roads, vehicles, intensely cultivated cropland—at thirty trillion tons, roughly three thousand tons for every human being. In 2013, Peter Haff, a Duke University earth scientist, reckoned that without this infrastructure, which he calls “the technosphere,” human population “would quickly decline toward its Stone Age base of no more than ten million.” You can relax that pessimism by an order of magnitude and still conclude that most of us would not survive outside our artificial habitat. We would be what Shakespeare’s King Lear calls “unaccommodated man”: a “poor, bare, forked animal.”

A “natural disaster,” then, is at least half non-natural, the product of a natural event and the infrastructure that it floods, shakes, or ignites. In North Carolina, much of that infrastructure is agricultural: over the past thirty years, the eastern part of the state has become the slaughterhouse of the East Coast. At least nine million pigs live here, mostly in “confined animal feeding operations” that contain thousands of animals apiece. Read more

Environment, News, Trump Administration

Report: With North Carolina reeling from Hurricane Florence, Trump to visit Wednesday

Donald Trump speaking

President Donald Trump

President Donald Trump will visit North Carolina Wednesday in the wake of Hurricane Florence’s devastating impact last week, multiple media outlets are reporting.

It wasn’t clear what areas Trump will tour, but the president’s arrival comes with swollen rivers across the state expected to crest in the coming days, forcing thousands out of their homes after the storm dumped double-digit rain amounts.

The president has had a tortured history with disaster relief, given his ongoing bickering with critics over the federal government’s failures in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria last year.

From CNBC:

Trump will visit areas affected by the hurricane, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Tuesday, though it wasn’t immediately clear which specific spots are on the president’s list. Sanders told CNBC that more details would be forthcoming.

Some North Carolina residents have begun to return to the towns they fled in advance of the storm. Florence had strengthened to a Category 4 storm with wind speeds as high as 140 miles per hour before slowing down by the time it made landfall late last week.

But days after the wind and rain had subsided, water levels continued to rise in some areas of the state, putting more homes and lives at risk.

The hurricane has claimed at least 32 lives, officials said, including 25 in North Carolina. Some measures of the storm’s damage are estimated at $2.5 billion in total insured losses alone.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said Monday that “catastrophic flooding and tornadoes are still claiming lives and property.”

Trump has used his Twitter account to focus mainly on the hurricane in recent days, largely avoiding other issues such as special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation and the upcoming midterm elections.

Education, News

Test scores in North Carolina public schools decline

DPI Superintendent Mark Johnson

DPI Superintendent Mark Johnson

This time of year is always a nervous one for North Carolina public school leaders.

With state testing results going public, K-12 officials will talk about their successes and their struggles. This week may focus on the struggles, though, with new testing results showing declines on state exams.

From The News & Observer:

Fewer North Carolina public school students passed state exams this year, with the decline increasing over time for students in third grade despite a state push to get young children reading at grade level.

New state results from the 2017-18 school year released Wednesday also show that the state’s 12-year streak of rising high school graduation rates has ended. But state leaders say the graduation results can’t be compared to previous years because of changes in how the rates are now calculated.

State education leaders pointed to positives Wednesday about how the majority of schools are meeting growth expectations on state exams and that the number of low-performing schools has dropped.

But the new test results also showed several areas of decline.

“We have some things to celebrate,” State Superintendent Mark Johnson said at a news conference Wednesday. “We also have things that will make us pause and have concerns.”

Go to https://bit.ly/2wGEwP6 for a Charlotte Observer/News & Observer searchable database of results for every North Carolina public school. Results are also available at http://www.ncpublicschools.org/accountability/reporting/ on the state’s website.

One example of a decline is how the percentage of students passing the state reading, math and science exams dropped to 58.8 percent in the 2017-18 school year. It was 59.2 percent the previous school year.

Even when the drop is small, Johnson said it still reflects that a lot of students declined. He said state test results seem to be plateauing.

“When we dig into the data, we see that some results go up, some results go down,” Johnson said. “But consistently the trend is that we are not where we want to be for students.”

An area where the scores seem to be going in reverse is performance of third-grade students on the state’s end-of-grade reading exam. State legislators created the Read To Achieve program in 2012 with the goal of trying to get students proficient in reading by the end of third grade.

The passing rate on the third-grade reading exams is now at 55.9 percent. It was at 60.2 percent in the 2013-14 school year and 57.8 percent in the 2016-17 school year.

Johnson said he hopes that efforts he’s pushed for such as reallocating state Read To Achieve funding to buy supplies and iPads for K-3 literacy teachers and reducing the amount of required assessments will improve performance.

It’s worth debating whether devices alone will make a difference. Recent research suggests the jury’s still out. 

Johnson’s iPad purchase has also been mired in controversy. As Policy Watch reported last week, the purchase came months after the superintendent and influential state budget leaders had their expenses, including dinner and lodging, paid for by Apple reps at their Silicon Valley headquarters.

Read more

Education, News, Trump Administration, What's Race Got To Do With It?

WRAL: Records show racial tension, post-Trump feuds in North Carolina schools

Here’s a must-read: WRAL News has published a fascinating deep dive into campus racial tension and post-election feuds in a North Carolina school system.

The report, which draws on accounts collected by an Orange County Schools administrator, details ugly incidents in which students of color were harassed or threatened by their peers.

It captures student clashes over President Trump’s election, boasts by Trump supporters, threats of deportation leveled at Hispanic students, and it reports, in at least one instance, backlash against students perceived to be Trump supporters.

According to the report, school system leaders collected the stories as school board members considered a ban on clothing that displays the Confederate flag, as well as Nazi or KKK symbols.

From the WRAL report:

In May 2017, an assistant principal entered a boys’ bathroom at Cedar Ridge High School in Orange County. There, scrawled on the wall, was a threat: “Kill all (racial slur).” He soon found similar graffiti in other bathrooms. Swastikas and slurs littered the walls.

A few months earlier, a Cedar Ridge High teacher heard a student yell “white power!” as they walked to the bus, but she couldn’t make out who it was. Back in her classroom, she found a swastika scratched into a desk in her classroom.

“You going to get deported,” a student told a classmate. The conversations were so upsetting to one student, they went home early.

During the 2016-17 school year, Orange County school leaders recorded 70 incidents at their middle and high schools involving racist threats, political feuds about Trump, clashes over the Confederate flag and other similar fights. They documented the incidents in a report known internally as the “confidential student-specific incidents data,” which noted the date, what happened and the consequences.

Orange County Board of Education members reviewed the document in closed session in May 2017 but didn’t release it publicly.

WRAL News requested a copy of the document this past spring after discovering it existed. Several months later, the school district released the five-page document with numerous redactions, citing student privacy. Of the 70 incidents, 16 are completely redacted and 24 are partially concealed.

The document has never been shared publicly until now. Its existence has prompted several questions: Why did Orange County Schools collect this data when other local school systems did not? Why did they not share it publicly? What did they learn from it? And why have they stopped collecting it?

Orange County Schools Superintendent Todd Wirt said he and his staff collected the information during the 2016-17 school year at the request of the school board, and they discussed it privately in closed session later that school year.

“This wasn’t about the district hiding this information,” Wirt said. “It was about protecting the students that were on the particular document and providing our board with accurate information to help them make a really difficult decision.”

That difficult decision, Wirt said, was whether to ban the Confederate flag on school grounds.

Last August, the school board decided to ban all clothing depicting the Confederate flag, swastikas or any KKK related symbols or language. The decision came after months of pressure from parents and students who urged the school system to change its dress code.

Before making a decision, the board wanted an accurate count of issues stemming from the Confederate flag and racial and election-related incidents in schools, not just anecdotes from a handful of people, according to Wirt. The superintendent assigned the task of collecting the incidents to Jason Johnson, his executive director of schools.

“Basically, each [school] administrative team, they just kind of kept the incidents in a spreadsheet and then I just ran around and got it from them so I could collect it and put it all in one location,” Johnson said.

While the middle and high schools reported dozens of incidents, the elementary schools reported none, according to the superintendent.

“We reached out to our elementary principals and, at the time, honestly, we just weren’t seeing those same types of behaviors at the elementary level,” Wirt said.

After collecting the reports from middle and high schools, Johnson scanned the pages. The stories of students’ hateful language and actions saddened him but didn’t surprise him, he said. He was already aware of some of the stories through his work with the schools’ principals. But others were new.

“You know, I’m an African-American male, so I’m probably a little bit more hurt than anything,” Johnson said. “I think it’s just very painful that we have a few kids – and I do mean a few – that will say some of the things they said or do some of the things they’ve done. But I also know that’s an opportunity to teach.”

The stories didn’t surprise the superintendent, either.

“This is year 20 for me in public education. I was a high school principal for quite some time. I don’t know that surprise would be the right word,” Wirt said. “I honestly was probably most surprised by some of the responses and animation around the election, more than anything from the document.”

The records captured multiple feuds between students over the election of Trump and some displays of support for his victory.

One day after the election, four students walked the halls of Gravelly Hill Middle School chanting “build a wall” within earshot of Hispanic students. That same day at Orange High School, a white student pulled into the parking lot with a Trump flag flying on the back of his truck. He got out and ran around the parking lot with the flag and a Trump mask on his face.

A few days after the election, a parent emailed Orange High School leaders regarding “a negative comment that a teacher had made about the type of people who voted for Trump.” And on a bus ride from C.W. Stanford Middle, a student called others “white crackers and Trump voters.”

In Johnson’s time leading schools, it has “never been this way around election time.”

“I don’t remember anything that compares to it,” he said. “I was a principal when we had the first black president, and we didn’t have anything like this.”

Read more