Education

Teachers enjoy the work, but don’t think they’re appreciated

North Carolina teachers marched for better pay last May.

U.S. teachers like their jobs, even though they don’t think society values the profession.

They also report working more hours than their peers around the world and are more active in pursuit of  higher pay.

Those are just two of the findings of the Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) recently released by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Researchers targeted teachers in grades 7-9.

They asked teachers and principals in 49 education systems about their working conditions and professional practices. More than 150,000 U.S. teachers and 9,000-plus U.S. principals participated in the survey.

Here is how U.S. teachers responded when asked about job satisfaction:

  • Ninety percent of U.S. lower secondary teachers reported that they are satisfied with their jobs, while 36 percent think that society values the teaching profession.
  • Ninety percent of U.S. lower secondary teachers “agree” or “strongly agree” that they are satisfied with their jobs, which is not measurably different from the TALIS or OECD averages (both 90 percent).
  • In contrast, 36 percent of U.S. lower secondary teachers “agree” or “strongly agree” that society values the teaching profession, which is higher than the OECD average (26 percent) but not measurably different from the TALIS average (32 percent).
  • Job satisfaction was generally high across education systems, ranging from 77 to 98 percent of lower secondary teachers who “agree” or “strongly agree” that they are satisfied with their jobs.
  • The belief that society values the teaching profession varied more widely across TALIS education systems, ranging from 5 to 92 percent of lower secondary teachers who “agree” or “strongly agree” with this sentiment.

To see the full report, go to: https://nces.ed.gov/surveys/talis/talis2018/

Commentary, Education

NCGA budget proposals are a slap in the face to educators

On May 1, thousands of educators and public education advocates flooded the streets of Raleigh to demand additional resources for North Carolina’s public schools. Organizers from the North Carolina Association of Educators outlined five policy priorities:

  1. Provide enough school librarians, psychologists, social workers, counselors, nurses, and other health professionals to meet national standards.
  2. Provide $15 minimum wage for all school personnel, 5% raise for all public school personnel, and a 5% cost of living adjustment for retirees.
  3. Expand Medicaid to improve the health of our students and families.
  4. Reinstate state retiree health benefits eliminated by the General Assembly in 2017.
  5. Restore advanced degree compensation stripped by the General Assembly in 2013.

Now that the House and Senate budget proposals have been released, it’s clear that General Assembly leaders failed to listen.

As can be seen, the General Assembly proposals fail to reach consensus on any of the policy priorities of the May 1 participants:

  • School support staff: Both proposals make just incremental progress towards filling North Carolina’s shortfall of librarians, psychologists, social workers, counselors, nurses, and other health professionals.
  • Educator compensation: Neither proposal includes extending the $15 minimum wage for state employees to the lowest-paid public school employees. Nor does either proposal provide a 5 percent pay increase in year one for educators. And neither budget includes a permanent COLA for retirees.
  • Medicaid expansion: Neither the House nor the Senate proposals include Medicaid expansion, leaving 500,000 North Carolinians in the coverage gap, harming stability and coverage for countless families.
  • Restore retiree health benefits for new hires: Neither proposal restores retiree health benefits for new hires after January 1, 2021, which will hamper teacher recruitment after that time.
  • Restore master’s supplement for those who started programs after August 1, 2013: The House budget includes restoration of the master’s salary supplement, returning to the policy in place prior to the 2013 repeal. The Senate proposal would not restore the master’s salary supplement.

These budget proposals are a slap in the face those who came out on May 1, filling the streets of Raleigh to demand more adequate support for our schools. Clearly, legislative leaders weren’t happy with teachers’ decision to organize massive rallies in each of the past two years. But unless the General Assembly reverses course and starts listening to the state’s educators, teacher actions are likely to become more frequent and more disruptive in future years. Teachers are clearly fed up with not being provided the resources necessary to help their children succeed. This year’s budget proposals are only going to stoke that fire.

Education

Bill would give state superintendent power to approve bond issuance for charters

The House Education Committee has given a favorable report to a Senate bill that would give the State Superintendent the power to approve charter school facility bonds.

Under Senate Bill 392, charters seeking approval to issue private activity bonds would be able to bypass local governments, which must sign off on the financing option now.

The superintendent could approve the issuance of the bonds after holding a public hearing.

The bill is sponsored by Sen. Deanna Ballard, (R-Watauga) who said allowing the State Superintendent to approve such requests would give charters an alternative to local governments that may not want to approve them for political reasons.

“In some cases local governments have refused to grant their approval even though the public charter school financing has no impact on their budgets,” Ballard said. “All this is really simply doing is adding another option for the local entities whether it be the city or the county to have available should they not want to vote on this.”

Ballard said it makes sense to give the authority to the superintendent who oversees the state’s charter schools.

“This is purely an administrative matter and there are multiple states that do something very similar,” Ballard said.

Ballard and other bill supporters want to avoid the kind of situation that played out in Durham a year ago when the Durham City Council voted 5-2 to not approve a bond request for Excelsior Classical Academy, which sought financing to pay off a bridge load it used to buy the building it had been leasing.

Council members who voted against the bond request did so in a show of support for Durham Public Schools, which they contend has been harmed by an expansion of charters in the county.

“Rather than acting as labs for innovation and exploration, I believe that charters are now becoming a mechanism by which public education in our state and our community is being threatened and being harmed,” Mayor Pro Tem Jillian Johnson said at the time.

Private activity bonds are tax-exempt bonds issued by or on behalf of a local or state government for the purpose of providing special financing for projects of private users that have some public benefit.

Charters receive better rates with private activity bonds than they would using banks or taking corporate loans.

A move to lift enrollment cap for virtual charters

SB 392 was introduced as a stand-alone bill. But a PCS (proposed committee substitute) would bring sweeping changes to the state’s two virtual charters schools.

Under the bill, N.C. Virtual Academy and N.C, Connections Academy would be allowed to increase enrollments to up 3,000 students. The pilot program, which enabled the schools would also be extended from four to eight years.

The State Board of Education [SBE] would be allowed to waive the 3,000-student cap beginning in the eighth year of the schools’ operation.

The legislation authorizing the two K-12 schools capped student enrollment in any virtual charter school at 1,500 students in the school’s first year of operation. It allows virtual charters to increase enrollment by 20 percent up to a maximum student enrollment of 2,592 in the fourth year of the pilot program.

The SBE can waive the maximum student enrollment threshold beginning in the fourth year of the school’s operation, if it determines it is in the best interests of students.

Democratic lawmakers have been critical of efforts to increase enrollment at the two schools because students attending them have not performed well academically. Both schools have earned “Ds” under the state’s letter grading system and neither has met expected student academic growth since opening in 2015.

State Rep. Graig Meyer (D-Orange), proposed an amendment to prevent NC Virtual Academy and NC Connections Academy from increasing its enrollment but it failed on a 14-11 vote.

“It makes no sense to expand struggling schools that are part of a pilot program,” Meyer said in an interview.

He said the legislature should not be in the business of determining when charters open, close or expand.

“That is what our State Board of Education and Charter School Advisory Board is for,” Meyer said.

Senate PCS 392 would also give the SBE the authority to renew a charter for less than 10 years or not at all if the percentage of charter students scoring at or above grade level on state tests is at least 5 percentage points lower than the scores of students attending traditional public schools in the district in which the charter is located.

Under current law, the SBE could renew for less than 10 years or not renew if:

  • The charter school has not provided financially sound audits for the immediately preceding three years.
  • The charter school’s student academic outcomes for the immediately preceding three years have not been comparable to the academic outcomes of students in the local school administrative unit in which the charter school is located.
  • The charter school is not, at the time of the request for renewal of the charter, substantially in compliance with State law, federal law, the school’s own bylaws, or the provisions set forth in its charter granted by the State Board of Education.
Education, Environment

Kids’ brains can be damaged when schools are near factories, major pollution sources

Each blue dot represents a Toxics Release Inventory site. These facilities emit contaminants that can cause cancer and damage human health and the environment. There are 22,000 such sites in the US. (Source: ToxMap)

A study of Florida public schools, found that children who are exposed to air pollution are more likely to score lower on tests and to be suspended from school. In addition, a school’s overall accountability ranking is more likely to drop.

The findings were recently released in a peer-reviewed paper by researchers Claudia Persico of American University and Joanna Venator of the University of Wisconsin.

At least 200 million people in America — two-thirds of the population — live within three miles of a Toxics Release Inventory site. Of those, 59 million live within one mile. And 22 percent of all public schools are within one mile of a TRI facility, according to 2016 data.

There are roughly 22,000 TRI sites in the US, and many are located in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color. These facilities emit thousands of types of contaminants, many of them unregulated.

Persico spoke about the research findings Monday night at NC State University. She said during certain times in children’s development — between birth and age 1, as well as in middle childhood, in grades 3 through 7 — the brain is especially vulnerable to the effects of contamination. At these ages, a child’s brain is forming new neural connections, known as neuroplasticity, that can determine learning ability, well as emotional behavior.

“These are bad times to be exposed to pollution,” Persico said.

However, the culture of high-stakes testing doesn’t account for environmental factors that can affect learning and overall school performance. Lead, mercury and other emissions from power plants and vehicle tailpipes might damage the brain, the paper said. Brain cells can die. Exposure to lead is especially problematic because nerve cells can be “demyelinated,” meaning the protective sheath is peeled away. (Multiple sclerosis is one of several diseases that result from demyelination.)

A separate study from 2017 found that students who take tests on days when there are high concentrations of air pollutants fare more poorly than when the air is cleaner.

Persico said that based on the Florida study, after a new TRI site opens, schools within one mile are more likely to have their school grades drop than comparison schools between one and two miles away within the same zip code. The effect, Persico said, is comparable to a 11 percentage-point increase in the proportion of disadvantaged students in a school. TRI site openings are associated with a higher likelihood of the school falling at least one grade-level, such as from a B to a C.

These findings could compel school districts that are near TRI sites to install and maintain air conditioning and filtration systems to purify  indoor air. The research could also guide local zoning and school siting decisions by keeping polluting industries as far away as possible from schools. “How does local environmental policy affect local education policy?” Persico said.

In many cases, it doesn’t. As Policy Watch reported last week, the Moore County School District is building a new elementary school for grades Pre-K through 5 within a mile of multiple pollution sources. Most of the children currently assigned to the school are economically disadvantaged and Black or Latinx.

 


 

Education

Best-selling author is accused of homophobia, racism at school he co-founded in New Bern

The “Daily Beast” recently shared email messages that appear to show best-selling romance novelist Nicholas Sparks tried to ban a LGBT club and silence student protests at a Christian school he helped to found in New Bern.

Sparks is the author of such bestsellers as “The Notebook” and “A Walk to Remember.”

The email messages are at the center of an ongoing legal battle between Sparks and Saul Benjamin, the former headmaster and CEO of Epiphany School of Global Studies who sued Sparks and the school’s Board of Directors in 2014 over what he alleges was a “pattern of harassment, racism and homophobia.”

Sparks has denied the allegations.

Sparks explained the bad blood between he and Benjamin in a declaration to the court. He said Benjamin could be “aloof, even rude, elitist and dismissive of their beliefs or backgrounds” and that he was often dishonest when dealing with the board.

The “Daily Beast” reports the case is scheduled for a six-day trial in August.

The news and opinion website’s story highlights a chief complaint about the state’s Opportunity Scholarship (school voucher) program; that it  provides money to private schools that may discriminate based on race, gender, sexuality and religious affiliation.

Kathryn Marker, director of grants, training and outreach at the N.C. State Education Assistance Authority (NCSEAA), the agency that oversees the state’s voucher program, said the program’s participation agreement forbids discrimination on the basis of “race, color or national origin.”

The participation agreement does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.

It mirrors federal law, which states: “No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program, or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

In a column for Policy Watch last month, Lindsay Wagner, a senior writer and researcher at the NC Public School Forum, wrote that the state’s voucher program “makes public dollars accessible to private schools that are free to discriminate by turning away students who are gay or transgender, have disabilities, or who don’t subscribe to a religious doctrine.”

Meanwhile, public schools must accept any and all students regardless of their religious, ethnic and socioeconomic background.

Schools that fail to comply with NCSEAA rules are not eligible to receive future scholarship grants.

Twenty-seven students who attend Spark’s school this year received state Opportunity Scholarships.  The students received $109,200 in voucher awards.

Here’s a copy of one of Spark’s email messages the Daily Beast alleges Sparks sent to Benjamin: