November, 2014

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Why We Must Vote

October, 2014

For decades, North Carolina has been a leader in public education in the south. Legislators worked together across the aisle to recruit and retain quality educators not just from North Carolina, but from across the country. Bipartisanship helped to pull North Carolina from near the bottom of national measures of education to the national average. Public education became the cornerstone for progress, attracting businesses and families from across the country to establish new roots and new beginnings, adding to the promise of North Carolina’s future.

Republicans have typically been known as the “fiscally responsible” party – at least in relation to the Democrats. But education has also traditionally been a value for Republicans in North Carolina. An educated workforce is the cornerstone of a strong economy. When companies and businesses have a skilled pool of workers to choose from, innovation is the result. For decades, North Carolina has led the south in public education. Strong leadership in the governor’s office and in the General Assembly has adopted this philosophy to attract companies and entire industries to our state.

But in 2014, North Carolina is falling behind our neighbors in public education and is losing businesses and industries to competing states that can offer a sound public education system with the promise for innovation and economic growth. Many things have been said recently regarding public education in North Carolina, but only the numbers cut through the rhetoric and get to reality. As John Adams said, “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”

Since 2008, the number of students enrolled in North Carolina Public Schools has increased by 2.3% but the number of teachers has decreased by 2.6% (a total of 2,510). This can only mean more students per teacher: 5% more (that is 1-2 students more per teacher). For decades, study after study demonstrate that smaller class sizes increase student learning because teachers can dedicate more time to each student. How do you make sure to recruit and retain teachers? Just like in any field, give them an incentive to enter the teaching profession or give them an incentive to stay once they have chosen to teach. Instead, North Carolina has chosen to do the opposite. Over the same time period (2008 to present) state funding for public education has decreased by roughly $100 million. Are you asking yourself, “By how much is that number inflated? What has been the rate of inflation over that time?” An important question! Adjusted for inflation, the $100 million is actually $965 million in real dollars, a decrease of 13.6%! Per school, that amounts to a decrease of $156,000 or, adjusted for inflation,$838,000. Per student, $1,300 inflation-adjusted dollars.

Why do our schools lag behind? Why is North Carolina racing to the bottom when it comes to public education? The state’s choice to not adequately fund public schools is the opportunity cost for changes in the tax code geared to benefit private sector businesses and the wealthy. The General Assembly has eliminated the graduated personal income tax system in favor of a lower flat tax of 5.8% in 2014 and will be 5.75% in 2015; the wealthy, more able to contribute to the society as a whole, will shoulder less of the burden. Corporate income taxes have been cut from 6.9% to 5% by 2015 making NC more attractive to relocating businesses but when they seek educated and skilled labor they will be hard pressed to find it. North Carolina spends $495 less per student than it did in six years ago and ranks seventh among 14 states in which 2014-15 per-pupil funding is more than 10 percent lower than in 2008 when the recession hit. (Center on Budget and Policy Priorities). According to a NC Justice Center report, the money spent this school year on public education falls $277 million short of what is needed to maintain the same service levels in place two years ago. And Public Schools First NC’s fact sheet, Impact of the 2013-15 State Budget, notes that budget cuts have dramatically impacted the number of teacher assistant positions, classroom materials, and instructional supplies; textbooks are funded at an unrealistic $20 per student.

While our government has decided that faceless businesses, some responsible for the financial collapse, are too big to fail, they have decided that our children are not. Billions of dollars can be spent to rescue businesses, but cuts continue when it comes to our children and their future. We must take a stand and let our representatives know that our children, their potential, and the potential for North Carolina are “too big to fail.” North Carolina’s future needs a bailout. It needs to be rescued from the grip of politics and special interests on Jones Street. That bailout will take the form of the votes from the people who are tired of the corruption in Raleigh. It will come from the votes of those who will go to the polls to take back their government and their political parties from the extreme factions buying our legislators and give North Carolina a chance to rise again as a leader in the region.

 

Matt Caggia

Social Studies Teacher

Leesville Road High School

Wake County

 

Four Bad Arguments Against Common Core

September, 2014
As a high school English teacher, I am not a blind supporter of the Common Core State 
Standards (CCSS). I do recognize that there are flaws inherent within any system of
standardization. But some of the arguments I’ve heard are less than stellar.
Here are my favorites:
1.“The Common Core Curriculum is…” Stop right there. The Common Core isn’t a
curriculum but a set of standards. Wake County has its own curricula, and my course
syllabus and pacing guides are my own. Furthermore, how I teach what I teach is up to
me. I’m not required to teach specific texts — the standards suggest teaching
“Shakespeare as well as other authors.” And whether teaching Macbeth or Hamlet,
Common Core is only concerned that I help my students meet the standard.
“Whatever. The Common Core Standards, then, force all teachers to teach a certain
way.”
Again, I must disagree. In my experience, we have been encouraged to include more
informational texts, which is cool, and we have worked with the county to develop
performance based tasks as evaluation tools rather than multiple choice tests. Also
cool. My students find these things difficult. They also find them rewarding.
“Why will I need to know Hamlet in ten years?”
they ask.
“Um…because Hamlet is awesome and will help
you appreciate literature and gain cultural
literacy…” is usually my answer. “Why will I need to know how to write a resume?” or
“When will I ever use these strategies for understanding a political speech or
argument?” are not questions I get often.
2. and 3. “The standards are dumbing down the kids”/ “The standards are too hard for
the kids”
According to Glenn Beck’s website, “Many teachers, educators, and parents believe
Common Core is dumbing down America’s children.” At the same time, some find the
standards too hard. In a piece for WUNC, Reema Khrais featured parent Andrea Dillon
who “says Common Core is not developmentally appropriate for her son. ‘Just for an
example, they’re doing persuasive writing pieces in first-grade where he has to have an
opening sentence, three supporting sentences and a closing argument for a text he’s read,
and he has to do that on his own – he’s seven,’ she said.”
So which is it? Too simple or too difficult?
In the case of the first grade, the writing standards stipulate that students have “guidance
and support from adults” while learning to write, not on their own. But specific standard
arguments aside, this is not a Common Core problem. The fact that we have any standards at all necessarily means that some kids will find the standards “too easy” and
some will find them “too hard.” That’s what happens when one creates a standard. It’s
my job as a teacher to push the students who have surpassed the standards forward, and
to work hard to bring the kids below standard up to par.
The point is that no “standard” is going to be just right for all of the kids all of the
time. This is why we differentiate; we tailor assignments to meet students at their
level. Getting rid of the Common Core State Standards would do nothing to solve this
problem, mainly because North Carolina adopted the CCSS to replace our own – which
were deemed too simple, “dumbed down”, and not adequate enough to prepare our
students to compete nationally or globally. Speaking in support of the standards, the NC
Chamber, a nonpartisan voice for advocating businesses, calls them “high, globally
competitive standards that North Carolina students will need to compete for the jobs of
tomorrow.” Choruses of NC leaders have also voiced their support, something that didn’t
happen with the old standards.
4. “Getting rid of Common Core will help with the whole standardized testing situation.”
A great article by Rethinking Schools condemns the Pearson Inc.-developed Common
Core tests. It goes on to present a horror story of a testing situation, reporting that
“Students reported feeling overstressed and underprepared—meeting the tests with shock,
anger, tears, and anxiety. Administrators requested guidelines for handling tests students
had vomited on. Teachers and principals complained about the disruptive nature of the
testing process and many parents encouraged their children to opt out.” And teachers,
parents, and school boards are making the news for protesting these ridiculous tests.
Pretty cool. I also hate the amount of high stakes testing that we are doing.
But…
NC had high stakes testing well before the CCSS showed up, and I venture to guess that
repealing those standards won’t get rid of testing hereafter. It seems to me that the fight
isn’t about the standards but about the testing. Perhaps there should not be so many
standardized tests. Perhaps teachers shouldn’t spend so much time training students for
these tests. Certainly these tests should not represent such high stakes in a student’s
academic career. Definitely these tests should not be used as a sole indicator of a
teacher’s effectiveness. Either way, the argument that equates the standards with the
testing is overlooking North Carolina’s educational history since 1993 – well before Gates
got into the education game.
In the end, I respect a healthy dialogue about standards and I’m proud to be part of a
dynamic community that believes passionately in doing what is best for our students. I
do not doubt many on all sides of the controversy are thinking of the children, but I
cannot see what a complete repeal of the Common Core State Standards – which have
taken tons of money and time to implement – is going to do to solve many of the issues
raised by opponents. As the Academic Standards Review Commission meets to begin
reviewing the standards, I urge them to leave behind fallacious arguments and to address
the real issues behind these complaints that are facing our students and our state.
Alicia Burnette Whitley

Why Taking The High Road Can Make All the Difference in Parent-Teacher Communication

September, 2014

Most of us have been there. We’ve had the teacher who didn’t give our child (or us!) the grade we thought was deserved. Some of us have listened to the counselor say that our child should be in a standard-level class rather than the honors hoped for. And most of us have voiced our opinions or heard opinions expressed about these disappointments. Sometimes, however, these comments can sting or even do lasting damage.

This is a vulnerable time for public education and especially for public school teachers. We are, in fact, at a crucial crossroads as to where public schools are headed in our near future. What parents say and how they say it can greatly impact teacher morale. As critical allies of public schools, parents can do a lot of good by choosing the high road when faced with the choice between a positive, supportive comment and a disparaging one. Consider a few scenarios where you might encounter this dilemma:

At the bus stop with several parents, you hear the kids discussing something that happened during the school day. Some of you disagree with what a teacher has done or said at school and the conversation immediately turns negative. Instead of joining in, here’s an alternative: say to the other parents involved, “Let’s step away from the kids and discuss this further.” When you disparage teachers in front of children, your negative judgment gives them license to disrespect educators in the school setting.

In following up that bus stop conversation, another parent decides to let that teacher know exactly what he thinks. Please suggest that he give the teacher the benefit of the doubt. What a child comes home and purports happened may not be the entire story. Please encourage others to ask what happened rather than accuse. At a parent-teacher conference, you disagree with a teacher’s assessment that your child would perform better in a certain level class over another. Your child is upset with this evaluation and, understandably, you want to support him. Ask the teacher what led her to this conclusion. If a teacher believes your child might have the ability but has not yet shown the work ethic, ask what she has observed in class. Instead of denouncing a teacher’s assessment, communicate with her as a professional and ask how you can work with her to develop a plan that will help your child be successful in her class.

As you read comments shared in an email or posted on Facebook on teacher and/or class selection at your child’s school, you notice various pessimistic comments. Bashing public school teachers has become en vogue, whether in a social media comment (“Why does my child always get THE WORST teacher in the school??”) or a post-article discussion forum (“If they wanted to make more money, they should get a different job and stop complaining.”). As a supporter of public education, do not allow yourself to get stuck in the quagmire of this insult.

Even if you have concerns, voicing them over social media or in front of your child will not make a positive change, if any change at all. Instead wait until you meet the teacher and see how your child does in the class. If you notice problems, schedule a conference right away.

On your lunch break you and a friend compare your children’s homework load and grades. She says she has no idea how her child is doing because the teacher is non-communicative. Please suggest to her that she go online and check her child’s class website, Dojo, or Edmodo page. Ask her if she attended Open House or Meet the Teacher where teachers often disseminate much of that information. If her child has grades posted on PowerSchools, by all means, she should log on and get a password. Above all parents should find out how grades are assigned and posted and communicate directly with the teacher and/or principal with concerns about process.

Your child comes home and immediately settles in to his science homework. He says he wants to get it done because for the first time, he “gets it.” He even goes on to say that his teacher explained it so well that he feels confident he is going to do great on the test the following week. Now is the time to say something! Instead of walking away and saying nothing, tell a teacher when he does something effective or uses a strategy that really works with your child. Let a teacher know when something positive happens if you feel he has been part of that process. Those emotional pay raises make teachers believe they can continue another year, another semester, sometimes just another week.

So as you come upon that ubiquitous intersection of negative vs. affirmative teacher talk, let your GPS (maybe that stands for “Great Public Schools”!) take you the right way. Find the positive in your child’s school and teachers so that you and they can collaboratively build a supportive environment, relationship, and expectations for your child to thrive.

 

Heather Dinkenor

North Carolina English Teacher

NBCT