Wearing Red4Ed: Are We Satisfied?

When Red4EdNC launched the “Wear Red for Public Ed on Wednesday” movement, I hoped to one day call off the protest. With our legislative leaders boasting of passing the largest single-year teacher raise in history, it’s time to assess that aspiration.

To attract businesses, to keep property values consistently high, to raise the health and economic security of all North Carolinians, every NC community needs high quality public schools. We also want to avoid students and educators leaving public schools for charter and private schools. A two-tier school system will create a permanent underclass as well as sacrifice the promise of the American meritocracy (hard work pays, opportunity exists).

To have great schools, we must have great teachers. Last week 700 Wake County community members gathered – parents, elected officials, and area leaders. They selected teacher quality and retention as the most important priority of the school system, by a wide margin. Meanwhile, school systems statewide report record numbers of resignations and struggle to fill open positions.

To attract and keep the best teachers, school systems must offer competitive salaries, a challenging and supportive work environment, adequate resources, professional growth opportunities, and autonomy.

Now, with 21 years of teaching experience, I lost over $9,180 dollars of expected income when salaries were frozen. Next year, my paycheck will be over $3900 higher, thanks to the new state budget. But, I will lose about $2000 of longevity pay. My net gain before taxes is about $2000. These raises are created from non-recurring funds, which means next year, I might lose my raise and still not get a longevity check. So I could be in the red $2000. Sounds like some elected officials are trying to get through an election year, and then there will be some very difficult choices to make.

NC teachers have a challenging work environment. Our students’ diversity entails ability, socio-economic status, ethnic background, and family support, among other concerns, and we must differentiate instruction to meet their needs. Public schools serve every student, not just those whose families have the transportation or funds to be there. Furthermore, the state legislature’s decision not to automatically increase funding with increased enrollment means hiring will likely take place last minute, making classes more crowded than necessary, more crowded than effective. Pre-K funding for low-income kids will not catch up to demand anytime soon, and we struggle to meet the annually growing documentation and assessment requirements.

Human and physical resources dwindle in NC public schools. Charlotte-Mecklenburg cut 90 teacher assistant positions. At my school, we lack textbooks for our history students, and the 10-year-old ones we do have are falling apart. I flipped my classroom (put all my lectures on YouTube) to help eliminate that shortage, but I can’t sustain that practice because my laptop’s operating system is too outdated to run the video software we cannot afford. Two grant proposals I wrote were turned down; the granting agency had fewer funds to disperse. For the first time in my 21-year career, I cannot progress in my instructional practices because I lack resources.

Opportunities for professional growth have been all but eliminated: no pay raises for master’s degrees or to pursue costly National Board Certification going forth, anemic professional development funds, even in “good” school systems, and minimal, if any, pay for mentoring new teachers.

As for autonomy, the courts have ruled that teachers who have tenure/career status (meaning they cannot be fired without due process) will retain it. But tenure has been eliminated for all teachers entering the profession. Retaining good teachers will be harder as they will lose their autonomy. Peter Greene’s article, “It’s Not the Firing, It’s the Threatening,” perfectly articulates this reasoning: “The threat of firing is the great ‘Do this or else…’ It takes all the powerful people a teacher must deal with and arms each one with a nuclear device. Give my child the lead in the school play, or else. Stop assigning homework to those kids, or else. Implement these bad practices, or else…The threat of firing coerces her into doing the job poorly.” Great teachers don’t like doing anything poorly.

Principals tell me that dismissing bad teachers in NC really isn’t that hard. Keeping the great, smart, experienced, dynamic ones though? That’s tricky. Terminating career status (tenure) only worsens that scenario.

So, is it time to call off the protest? I’ve weighed the variables, and I’m making another trip to the thrift store where everything is sorted by color. Guess which rack I’m heading to?

Please join me. Wear Red for Ed on Wed. Subscribe to the PSFNC newsletter,like us on Facebook, and be an advocate for change among your peers. And vote November 4th! The future of NC is at stake.

Angie Scioli
Wake County Social Studies Teacher
Founder, Red4EdNC

Red4EdNC is Merging With PSFNC – Together We Are Stronger!

Dear Red4EdNC supporters,

After a year of working to inform the public about education issues in NC, we have realized that we cannot also simultaneously do our primary jobs of educating our students.  Thus, we have joined with Public Schools First NC.  As a full-time entity with a staff that can effectively do the research and postings we wanted to do, Public Schools First NC will allow us to focus on education issues through the lens and voice of the teacher.  PSFNC has graciously partnered with us and given us a corner of their newsletter where we will post “teacher-to-teacher” and “teacher-to-parent” articles.  We are looking for activist teachers to write these articles so more voices can be heard with the broader bandwidth that PSFNC has. We also hope to collaborate more with teacher leaders to sustain this message about the crucial role public schools play in the very infrastructure of our society.  Please stick with us, stay informed via Public Schools First NC’s bimonthly newsletters, and get involved in the conversation.  Follow Public Schools First NC on  Twitter @PS1NC and “Like” them on Facebook,facebook.com/PublicSchoolsFirstNC!  We look forward to seeing the fruits of this exciting new partnership!

Red4EdNC

NC Educators: Not Sure What to Do about the Bonus/Contract Deal? Just Say No

Since the days of actually eating lunch in the teacher’s lounge ended long ago, there isn’t a “water cooler” moment in my teaching day anymore.  I miss the adult conversation that was an opportunity to “pick the brains” of wiser teachers with much more experience.  As I think about this 25% plan – the process by which some of the teachers at my school will enter a pool and be offered a bonus in turn for surrendering their career status – I have missed the forum for communication among teachers all the more.  So, I decided to be a “walking water cooler” and seek the perspectives and advice of educators, current and retired, about the plan.  I wanted to know practical things like, “Under what circumstances is it logical to enter the pool?”   I’ve listened, and thought about it, and here’s where I now stand.

Just say no.  I shouldn’t enter the pool, and there are very few teachers who should.

The only teachers who should enter the pool are those who feel very, very secure in their jobs and plan to retire in the next few years.  If they get the bonuses, they will raise their pay, and that will, in turn,  raise their pension.

Anyone else? JUST SAY NO. 

Here’s the collective wisdom I have gathered, sprinkled with a healthy dose of wise sayings to help drive the points home:

Send a message

If the vast majority of teachers opt out, it will be a powerful statement to the powers that be that created this plan.  This plan is counterproductive, resented by teachers and administrators alike, and the best way to make that clear is to refuse to participate at any level.

What about the money?

Only the first year of the bonuses are funded.   If you have career status, that is worth something.  The bonuses are theoretical, much like the ABC merit pay bonuses we were promised in years past.

It’s not a lot of money.  After taxes, that first year, the only year that’s funded, the bonus will equal about $30-35 a month.  We know if you starve a dog and then throw it a bone, it will jump.  But in this case, it’s a small bone that has very little meat on it.  And it could get caught in your throat.

Tenure and legislative changes

Career status might be slated to disappear in 2018, but there’s a lot of water to go under that bridge.  There are elections, and lawsuits . . . the fat lady hasn’t yet sung.   If the laws change, and you have never surrendered your career status, you won’t have to figure out how to restore it.

The convoluted evaluation process

Curiosity killed the cat.  You might just be curious if you are in that top 25%, and the only way to know for sure is to jump in the pool.  But, if you look at the process, is that rating they come up with really a fair assessment of your teaching ability?  In past years, I have been rated higher on the NCEES than I deserved on some standards and lower on others.  I understood I could have a long drawn out meeting with my administrator to show evidences to boost my ratings, but I was told that this was a growth tool, and did not see reason in arguing every unchecked box.   I didn’t fear for my job, and heck, the last thing my evaluator or I need at the end of the year is a three hour meeting!  So, I took what I could from the process and moved on.

So, if you look at how they are making the sausage, it becomes a little less appetizing to find out how you stack up.  The numbers they are using are flawed, and so the results will be also.  You can’t take an evaluation instrument intended to be used as a “growth” model, twist it into an “achievement” model, and expect it to yield very good results.

The spirit of collaboration 

And, jumping in that pool could be corrosive to the spirit of collaboration we have been building in our schools for years.  You know the drill for defeating a group – divide and conquer.  Once we start seeking divisions – keeping score of who is better than whom – there is an incentive to withhold ideas so our star can shine a little brighter than someone else’s.  That is not in our self-interest as teachers nor in the interest of the kids.  We need all ships to rise on the tide of collaboration that has become the new norm at many schools.  This 25% plan runs counter to that ethic and is, therefore,  dangerous.

Final thoughts

At first I was tempted to enter the pool and then say “no thanks” were I offered the bonus/contract.  In Wake County, they aren’t “going down the line” and offering refused contracts to anyone else.  My reasoning was that I would “save” someone else from making the mistake of taking the contract.  But, what if the person’s spot I took was a person seeking to retire in the next few years?  I could deprive them of the chance to boost their retirement income – the one group of people who stand to benefit from this deal.  I decided, in the end, that plan was too unpredictable and risky.

So, in the end, it’s pretty simple.  Just say no from the start.  Do not enter the pool.

And remember, in Wake County, you must actually SAY NO.  If you do not respond to the initial poll in Wake County in the early spring, you will automatically be entered in the pool.

So, whew.  That’s decided.  Back to bigger concerns, like . . . . teaching.

Wake County Outlines Implementation of 25% Contract Legislation – The Details Employees Need to Consider

A working group of teachers, administrators, and interest group representatives in Wake County have proposed a process for how  25% of 7,454 teachers, counselors, and specialists  should be identified and offered four year contracts and bonus money in return for surrendering their tenure four years early.    It is likely to be accepted by the Board of Education in the coming weeks, and implementation will begin in February.  Those educators should familiarize themselves with the plan so they might consider how they will respond.

The plan says each of those 7,454 employees are in the “pool” because they have three or more years years experience in the Wake County school system and have no lower than “proficient” ratings on their past evaluations.  It includes anyone paid on the teacher pay scale.

  • All of those in the pool will be sent an electronic form in February or March.  They will be asked if they would like to be considered for one of the four year contracts.  If they do not respond, they will automatically be included.  If they say yes, they might be offered a contract at a later time, and they can decline it at that time.
  • If contracts are offered to an individual and declined, they will not be offered to another employee.
  • Once the pool of candidates are known, evaluations from the past 2 years (the NCEES teacher evaluation instrument) will be analyzed.  Point values will be assigned to  the various levels of the rating system.  For example, “Not Demonstrated” = 1 point, “Distinguished” = 5).  Only standards 1 and 4 will be included.
  • Candidates will get an average rating for each employee by dividing the total number of points earned by the total number of ratings given in the two year time frame.
  • Those ratings will then be compared to each other at the school level.
  • At each school, the 25% of the employees in the pool with the highest average rating will be offered four year contracts.
  • A alternate system for rating employees not evaluated using NCEES was also provided.  They will be considered as a district-wide pool.

When considering the above plan, what ethical and practical considerations does it create for you?  What questions do you have?   Feel free to chime in below and we will dedicate future posts to addressing those concerns.

 

Local School Districts Inconsistently Interpreting Law and Policies

Local school districts are coming to different conclusions about two issues:  wearing Red4Ed messaging in the classroom and how to apply the 25% teacher contract / bonus requirement.

The New Hanover County School Board has just announced that teachers cannot wear shirts to school that explicitly say “Red 4 Ed” on them.  They can wear the color red.   The school board said they felt the messaging brought politics into classrooms, in violation of the North Carolina Code of Ethics for Educators.  In Wake County,  the wearing of t-shirts is discouraged because they do not meet the standards of professional dress.  However, they allow classroom teachers to wear buttons saying, “Wear Red 4 Ed on Wed.”    It is evident school boards are drawing different conclusions about the Red 4 Ed messaging.

In addition, there is not consensus among districts about how to apply the  contract/bonuses requirement that was passed this summer.  The law requires 25% of the teachers at public schools to be offered a bonus and four year contract.  Upon signing the contract, they surrender their career status.    It is unclear how schools should proceed if the 25% that are offered contracts decline to sign.   The question was made more pressing when one hundred percent of teachers  at Murray Middle School in New Hanover County signed a pledge that they will all refuse to accept the bonuses.    The School Boards Association has issued guidance that does not require that 25% be placed on contracts if those in the initial 25% do not accept.   A source at the General Assembly says that other school districts may opt to extend further offers if the initial ones are refused.   Local school districts have some flexibility about how they will carry out the requirement, and it appears they intend to use it.

It appears educators are finding themselves in a fluid situation where politics is truly local; the interpretation of the statutes and application of policies will differ from district to district.  All the more reason for this forum to exist.  In the comments below, tell us how your districts are reacting to these issues so we all might be better informed of the shifting sands of educational policy in North Carolina.

 

Are Teachers Who Wear Red4Ed Bringing Politics into the Classroom? NO & YES.

no

Both parties believe the public schools should exist, so it is not partisan to communicate support for them.  

 

Sometimes people mean “partisan” when they use the term “political”.

Partisan here refers to the existence of political parties or factions.  For something to be seen as partisan, the position must appeal to one party but not the other.    For example, students and teachers are encouraged to wear red, white, and blue to school on a prescribed date in September in celebration of Constitution Week.  The Constitution enjoys popularity with both Democrats and Republicans, though we know they might choose to interpret the document differently.  So, wearing certain colors to school in that spirit is not seen as partisan, as both parties support the idea in question.  Celebrating Constitution Week would only become a political statement if in fact, one of the two parties decided to oppose the Constitution.   At that point, it would then be considered partisan to encourage people to dress symbolically to support a position on which the parties disagree.

Wearing Red4 Ed would only be a partisan political act if one of the major parties opposed  the existence of public schools.    That has never been in the official platform of either party at any time in history since the founding of public schools in the 1840s.  In fact, both parties currently maintain they not only think public schools should exist, but they should be better and more effective.  They may disagree about what tactics and reforms might bring about that end, but as with the Constitution, differences in interpretation have not diminished the importance of the Constitution in the country, just as differences over educational reform do not diminish the importance of the public schools in the democracy.   So, like wearing red, white and blue for Constitution day, wearing Red4Ed on Wed. simply encourages everyone to demonstrate their commitment to an institution that has a profound role in stabilizing our society and helping it live up to its founding principles.

Teachers need not worry about being political in the sense of being partisan, unless they are advocating positions the parties disagree about.  So, do both parties agree the public schools should exist and therefore we should demonstrate support for them and make them the best they can be?  The answer is clearly yes.  Being a Democrat myself (this is Angie writing here, see the “Meet Us” tab above!), I know we are on solid ground on that side of the aisle.  And being married to a Republican and surrounded by an entire extended family of similar mind, I should think they would have informed me if the Republican Party has decided to totally privatize education.  If things have changed and my husband has allowed me to go out on this limb ignorant of that shift, he’s going to get the silent treatment when I get home.  As you can imagine, it will probably be a welcome reprieve.

————————————————————————————————-

yes

Public schools are an arm of the government, and there are good reasons why we entrust government with this function.

 

Since public school teachers are agents of the state and local governments, all their actions are inherently political.  But, we should not just accept this reality at face value.  Since education is not specifically mentioned in the Constitution as a function of government, why and how have we come to see the coordination and oversight of education as a proper role of government?  While the earliest public schools existed in the 1630s, by the 1870s all the states in the republic had adopted tax-supported public schools.  What was their rationale and how did it gain such broad support so quickly in America?

One of the earliest advocates was Horace Mann.  In the 1840s, he made a compelling case that tax-supported public schools were the next natural step in the fulfillment of the democratic ideals the new democracy was founded upon:  equality of opportunity, the rejection of an entrenched class system, and the development of a citizenry capable of participating in the democracy while at the same time spurring the economy through innovations and inventions.  His vision still resonates in America.  While the majority of Americans firmly reject equality of results (communism), we do think every citizen should get a fair shake in America.  No matter their station at birth, we like to think America is a place where every person can work hard, get a good education, and succeed.  The public schools, since their founding and to the present, have been the major vehicle for that vision to become reality.   Modern efforts to equalize the quality of the schools, from federal Title I funding (funds the federal government sends to lower income schools) to the Leandro case ruling (the state Supreme Court ruled children have the right to a “sound basic education”)   in NC, are just recommitments to the importance of the original idea that equality of opportunity depends on access to a quality education, and the government role in providing that access is appropriate and necessary.

By the post-Civil War period, we developed another function for public schools.   With massive waves of immigration, our society was becoming increasingly diverse and pluralistic; public schools were seen as the one institution that might be a cultural unifier, even savior, of the democracy.  As ethnic islands flourished in Northern cities, and rural and urban differences grew, it became clear that a common American identity might best be forged in public school classrooms.  Today, as society divides itself at an even faster pace into different “tribes” (a term coined by David Brooks in his book The Social Animal) this function of the public schools continues to have relevance.  Were education to become purely privatized, this trend towards fragmentation would simply and undeniably gain speed.    Andrew Carnegie, in his essay The Gospel of Wealth, predicted the outcome of such a sorting quite well in 1889.  He wrote, “Rigid Castes are formed, and, as usual, mutual ignorance breeds mutual distrust. Each Caste is without sympathy for the other, and ready to credit anything disparaging in regard to it.”  As we see now, the governmental institutions in such a society strain to function in a climate where so little common ground can be found.  The public schools remain our last best hope that as Americans, we have thirteen years of exposure to the full range of diversity in America before we sort ourselves into our respective tribes.  There, to the degree that our schools are diverse themselves, we were exposed to people of different races, ethnicities, social classes, and political leanings.  Even now, this period seems inadequate in meeting the need for mutual understanding , empathy and compromise required in our diverse and pluralistic society, but one can only imagine how much worse our current divisions would be if the majority of us had not attended public schools.

Given the long history of support for public education in the United States, and the recognition from both parties that the public schools serve a critical and important function in stabilizing and unifying our republic and helping it live up to the promise of our founding documents, I think we can all agree, from the left and right, that Wearing Red 4 Public Ed is not a problematic, but rather a patriotic, act.

 

What Teachers Must Decide by May

According to the “Excellent Public Schools Act” passed this summer in the NC state legislature, the following things must happen by June 30, 2014:

  • Each school principal must select 25% of his or her  faculty (classroom teachers and all those holding licensure who are evaluated using NCEES)
  • Those 25% will be offered a four year contract to sign.
  • If they sign that contract, they will be promised a $500 bonus for each year they teach under that contract. They accumulate each year, to total $5000 over the four years.
  • When they sign that contract, they will surrender, voluntarily, their career status / tenure.

All NC public school teachers need to decide if they want to be in that 25%, and if they will sign the contract.

It should also be noted:

  • All teachers will lose their tenure in 2018, according to current law.
  • The bonus money has not yet been funded in the state budget, and it is estimated bonuses will cost $12 million the first year, $20 million the second, $30 million the third, and $40 million the fourth (see this article)
  • The next elections for the state legislature are November 2014. There could be changes in the law if the composition of the state legislature changes significantly.
  • If tenure is reinstated by a later legislature, we don’t know what they will do about teachers who voluntarily surrendered their tenure by signing four year contracts.
  • NCAE is filing an injunction (seeking a court order to stop the enactment of this law) in the coming weeks.

FAQs:

Q: What if the 25% of teachers selected do not choose to sign the contracts?
A: Let’s say 100% of the 25% declined to sign. Then, the principal could choose the next 25% to offer the contracts to (the 26%-51%). He can award up to 25% of the faculty, but not more than 25%.

Q: How will the principals choose the 25%?
A: Right now, they have not been provided clear criteria. Since teachers who do not have an evaluation on file cannot be awarded, we can assume the teacher evaluation instrument might be one factor. Those who know how diverse and varied the roles of teachers are know that at some level, these decisions will be somewhat subjective.

Q:  How does $500 a year equal $5000 over four years?A:  It accumulates:  $500 year one +$1000 year two + $1500 year three + $2000 year four = $5000.

Q: What if the teachers sign the contracts and the state doesn’t come through with the bonus money?
A: It is unclear if then the local districts would be obligated to come up with the money, or if the state could be sued for breech of contract.

Q: NCAE is filing suit over the taking away of tenure. Would those who sign contracts be in a position to benefit from any future rulings on the matter if they sign away tenure voluntarily?
A: No, since they signed away their tenure rights voluntarily, they would not have standing to benefit from the lawsuit.

Q: Is NCAE likely to win the lawsuit?
A: Case law is not clear on this matter. Teachers in NC do not sign individual contracts and their tenure was granted to them by the passage of law. Some legal precedents indicate it can therefore be removed by law. Other rulings disagree.

Q: Why are they trying to get the “best” teachers to surrender their tenure early?
A: We can only speculate. One theory is that the teachers with the best record of service who are losing tenure in 2018 would be in the best position to sue. If they surrender their career status voluntarily, they cannot be a party to such a suit.

Q: What is the source of this information?
A: Red4EdNC has read the statute, referenced articles linked above, and communicated directly with staff members of the General Assembly who are very familiar with the legislation.

WKNC Red4EdNC Interview

Here’s a recording of the Red4EdNC-related interview WKNC 88.1 broadcast tonight on their show “Eye on the Triangle.”

Thanks to Cameren Dolecheck, Desirae Ward and all the great folks at the station for taking an interest in Red4EdNC!

Click here for download.

 

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Thanks for the Support!

We want to give a big shout out to all of you for showing us so much support.

Check out some of the photos submitted from schools across the state.

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Apex High School

 

 

 

 

Apex High School

 

 

 

Hillside High School

 

 

 

Hillside High School

 

 

 

Leesville Road High School

 

 

Leesville Road High School

 

 

 

 

Trask Middle School

 

 

 

 

Trask Middle School

 

 

 

Weddington High School

 

 

 

 

Weddington High School

 

 

 

 

 

North Lincoln High School

 

 

 

North Lincoln High School

 

 

 

 

Murray Middel School

 

 

 

Murray Middle School

 

 

 

 

 

Meredith Teaching Fellows

 

 

Meredith Teaching Fellows