Cunningham, Tillis to meet in UNC discussion on friendships across the political divide

U.S. Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) and former Demcoratic challenger Cal Cunningham will discuss building and maintaining friendships across the political divide.

Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) and former N.C. State Senator Cal Cunningham, a Democrat, will meet in November as part of UNC-Chapel Hill’s Abbey Speaker series.

The event, to be held November 10 at the Nelson Mandela Auditorium of the FedEx Global Education Center and livestreamed on Zoom, will focus on building and maintaining friendships across the political divide.

Cunningham challenged Tillis for his U.S. Senate seat in 2020 but failed in the wake of a sex scandal in which text messages revealed he carried on an extramarital affair while campaigning for office. The contest was the most expensive in U.S. history, with campaigns and outside groups spending more than $280 million as the outcome helped decide control of the U.S. Senate.

Cunningham kept a low profile as the scandal erupted around him in October, which political observers said contributed to his loss. He has since remained relatively low-profile.

The discussion, co-sponsored by the  UNC Institute of Politics. will be moderated by Sarah Treul Roberts, professor of Political Science and faculty director of UNC’s Program for Public Discourse.

Register for the Tillis/Cunningham discussion here.

More information on upcoming events as part of the Abbey Speaker Series and Program for Public Discourse here.

NC Association of Educators: Licensure and compensation proposal won’t solve recruitment and retention problems

NCAE vice president, Bryan Proffitt (left), explains the group’s opposition to a new teacher compensation plan at a Tuesday press conference. Photo: Greg Childress

Bryan Proffitt, vice president of the NC Association of Educators, was working as a furniture packer in 2004 when offered his first K-12 teaching job.

The competition for teaching positions in North Carolina was so fierce, Proffitt remembers, that he didn’t get a job offer until two weeks into the new school year despite having an advanced degree, teaching license, great recommendations and two years of experience as a university instructor under his belt.

“I was packing up someone’s house when I got the call that I got a job,” Proffitt said during an NCAE press conference Tuesday. “It was like getting called up to the majors. I couldn’t believe it.”

A lot has changed in 18 years, Proffitt said. Teaching jobs in the state are no longer coveted, and many educators are making the hard decision to quit the profession due to low pay and terrible working conditions. School districts are reporting hundreds of vacancies with only a few weeks left before the start of school.

Proffitt said a new licensing and compensation proposal backed by state education leaders to replace the state’s seniority-based teacher salary system with one that partially rewards teachers for student performance on state tests now threatens to make North Carolina’s teacher recruitment and retention efforts even more difficult.

He and a dozen or more educators, parents and supporters gathered at the Halifax Mall on Tuesday to push back against the plan educators complain relies too heavily on student test scores to reward teachers and does little to address recruitment and retention challenges.

“With respect to recruitment, we already know what works and what we can build upon,” Proffitt said. “North Carolina’s university system and its high-quality schools of education have been a source of great strength in our state for decades. Reinvest in our schools of education and expand programs that work like Teaching Fellows into our state’s historically black universities in order to recruit a teaching force that better reflects of state’s racial diversity.”

The NC Teaching Fellows is a merit-based, loan forgiveness program that provides up to $8,250 a year for up to four years to students who agree to teach in the fields of special education or S.T.E.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics) in state schools. Currently, the program’s eight universities include three minority-serving schools, North Carolina A&T and Fayetteville State universities and UNC Pembroke.

To keep educators in schools, Proffitt said the state must continue to pay them based on experience.

“Start every teacher in the state at a minimum of $45,000 and return to the annual experience steps and cost-of-living increases that historically have allowed veteran educators to stay in our classrooms with our kids,” Proffitt said. “Experience-based pay keeps high-quality educators in schools.”

The Professional Educator Preparation and Standards Commission (PEPSC) presented a draft proposal of the new system — labeled “North Carolina Pathways to Excellence for Teaching Professionals” — to the State Board of Education in April. If the proposal is approved and implemented, standardized tests, principal and peer evaluations, and student surveys would be used to determine whether a teacher is effective.

The proposal would create a system of entry-level certifications with the goal of bringing more people into the profession. One certification under the plan would serve essentially as a learner’s permit. It would allow aspiring educators with associate degrees to teach for two years while they earn a bachelor’s degree.

The new model also creates multiple steps at which educators can advance in the profession, including “expert” and “advanced” teaching roles that allow them to earn higher pay for taking on additional responsibilities such as coaching novice teachers.

The NCAE press conference came just days after two of the state’s top education leaders made bold statements in support of revisions to the state’s licensure and pay program.

At last Thursday’s State Board of Education meeting, State Board of Education Chairman Eric Davis and State Superintendent Catherine Truitt said changes are needed to improve teacher recruitment and retention.

Davis said North Carolina is in a “crisis” because too few students are enrolling in schools of education while veteran teachers are leaving the profession at alarming rates.

“In short, our state is in a teaching crisis that’s having a significant, negative impact on today’s students, and if not corrected will damage our state for generations to come,” Davis said.

The educators who joined Proffitt on Tuesday say they are skeptical about the changes they believe will deemphasize teaching experience. Davis and Truitt both deny the plan would move the state to a “merit pay” system.

Kiana Espinoza, an eighth-grade English teacher, said family and friends often ask how long she can continue to work in a profession that doesn’t provide adequate pay.

“My answer to them is that I can afford to be a teacher right now, but in a few years when I have more expenses and a family, who knows?” Espinoza said.

Susan Book, a Wake County parent and member of NC Families for Testing Reform, said she is concerned about teacher vacancies and the move to rely on student test scores to reward teachers.

“If you thought North Carolina’s teaching to the test was bad before, this system only increases the chances that it will get worse,” Book said. “That’s months of testing prep when our kids could be learning new material and expanding their creativity. I want our teachers to be more than a test score as well. Experience matters and I’m listening to teachers.”

A controversial teacher pay plan, the NC treasurer’s love for cash in the pension fund and more: The week’s top stories on Policy Watch

Click here for the latest radio interviews and commentaries with Policy Watch Director Rob Schofield.

10. Weekly Editorial Cartoon:

Citing ‘teaching crisis,’ state education leaders back new licensure and compensation plan

North Carolina teachers marched for better pay.

The state has a “teaching crisis” and must revamp its licensing and compensation system to recruit and retain quality teachers, Eric Davis, the chairman of the State Board of Education, said Thursday.

Davis noted that teacher vacancies throughout North Carolina are “soaring” while enrollment in “colleges of education has fallen over the last few years.”

“In short, our state is in a teaching crisis that’s having a significant, negative impact on today’s students, and if not corrected will damage our state for generations to come,” Davis said.

The chairman brushed back claims that the proposal is a backdoor attempt to implement an unwanted system of merit pay for teachers.

Eric Davis

“There’s simply not enough tested subjects to base compensation on student testing,” Davis said. “However, there are countless teachers in all years of experience across our state who today are creating positive outcomes for their students and who are not being sufficiently recognized, learned from or rewarded for their great work.”

State Superintendent Catherine Truitt joined Davis on Thursday to offer a full-throated endorsement of the proposed changes she contends will allow teachers to advance in their careers and be rewarded and recognized for improving academic outcomes for students.

Catherine Truitt

“They [teachers] deserve the chance to climb the ladder without having to leave the classroom for administration,” Truitt said.

A day after Davis and Truitt made their remarks, the N.C. Association of  Educators announced that it will hold a press conference Tuesday at 10 a.m., on Halifax Mall to push back against changes the organization says would replace an experienced-based pay system for “untested methods” that heavily rely on standardized test scores, peer evaluations and student surveys to determine whether teachers keep their licenses.

Here is what the NCAE said about the proposal in a press release:

“Decades of defunding public education and cutting teacher pay have long forced experienced teachers out of the profession, and the pandemic exacerbated the staffing crisis, with some districts reporting hundreds of resignations. The proposed changes do nothing to get at the root of the cause of low recruitment and retention numbers. Instead, it lowers the standards to become a teacher disguised as increasing pathways to enter the profession, a risky gamble for our state’s important investment: our students.”

In addition to revising how teachers are paid, the new proposal would create a system of entry-level certifications with the goal of bringing more people into the profession. One certification under the plan would serve essentially as a learner’s permit, that would allow aspiring educators with associate degrees to teach for two years while they earn a bachelor’s degree.

The new model creates multiple steps at which educators can advance in the profession, including “expert” and “advanced” teaching roles that allow them to earn higher pay for taking on additional responsibilities such as coaching novice teachers.

Truitt has said that it’s wrong to label the proposal “merit pay.”

“We’re trying to address the ongoing, pervasive challenge that many teachers feel that they do all of this extra work, which is tantamount to volunteer work that they’re not compensated for,” the superintendent said in April during a State Board of Education meeting.

Davis’ and Truitt’s defense of the controversial proposal was quickly criticized on social media on Thursday.

“The current teaching crisis is not about our licensure system,” tweeted NCAE President Tamika Walker Kelly. “Chairman “[Eric] Davis (and others) are being incredibly disingenuous by continuing to repeat that to push a deeply disliked plan. #nced”

The Professional Educator Preparation and Standards Commission (PEPSC) presented a draft proposal of the new system — labeled “North Carolina Pathways to Excellence for Teaching Professionals” — to the State Board of Education in April. If the proposal is approved and implemented, standardized tests, principal and peer evaluations, and student surveys would be used to determine whether a teacher is effective.

The State Board is expected to consider the changes in the fall. Davis said that whatever is approved then is unlikely to be the final version of the plan. He believes the new method will be continuously revised and updated as more feedback is received from educators and other stakeholders. Davis urged teachers to email [email protected] to share their feedback.

As Policy Watch previously reported, Justin Parmenter, a Charlotte-Mecklenburg middle school teacher and education policy commentator who writes at the website at Notes from the Chalkboard, has taken on a leading position in pushing back against the new licensing and compensation model.

Parmenter said in a Facebook post that Truitt was being disingenuous Thursday when she claimed that the process that produced the draft licensure and compensation plan has been thorough and open.

“Are you serious right now?” Parmenter wrote in the post. “I’m so glad to hear Truitt has had a complete change of heart since March, when she wanted to dissuade EdNC’s editor Mebane Rash from surveying educators.  Or April, when she “wanted to squash outside focus groups and surveys.” Or May, when she told people in a private meeting that the proposal was too far down the road for significant changes.”

Another editorial: State must address teacher shortage, comply with Leandro school funding mandate

In case you missed it, the Winston-Salem Journal/Greensboro News & Record twins published another important and on-the-mark editorial this week highlighting the funding shortfall in North Carolina’s K-12 education system that has precipitated a potentially disastrous teacher shortage.

As the editorial observed:

There is a critical shortage of teachers in North Carolina.

This should not come as a revelation. We’ve seen the trend for some time.

During the last school year, more than 1,800 teachers in North Carolina schools were not fully certified, meaning they were emergency fill-ins who were finishing their licensing requirements while on the job.

Schools are feeling the staffing pinch more and more, even those in the state’s wealthier districts.

“We have some of the same challenges that the other 114 districts across the state experience,” Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Superintendent Nyah Hamlett told WUNC.

For the state’s rural schools, it’s worse.

“We’re gonna potentially find ourselves August 29 with classrooms that are empty; there is no teacher to put there,” Michael Sasscer, superintendent of Edenton-Chowan Schools, said.

As the editorial also notes, there’s no particular mystery as to why this is the case. Between years of lousy pay, the pandemic, and persistent “gratuitous nastiness” from crabby parents and politicians, it’s no surprise that enrollment in schools of education has plummeted at the same time that many veteran teachers are bailing on the profession.

And while there is no magic, overnight solution to this deeply problematic situation, the editorial identifies some obvious places to start. As it notes in conclusion:

If there is any justice, the courts ultimately will rule that the state must remedy the under-funding of schools. The N.C. Supreme Court will soon hear the Leandro case, a 30-year-old lawsuit that rightly contends North Carolina has failed its constitutional mandate to provide a sound, basic education for all of its students. A judge already has ordered the state to fulfill that obligation but the legislature contends, essentially, that when it comes to funding, a judge can’t tell it what to do.

Meanwhile, the rest of should do our part by supporting and appreciating teachers.

As sorely as they deserve better pay and more resources, they also probably wouldn’t mind hearing two simple but powerful words a little more often: Thank you.

Click here to read and share the editorial the full editorial.