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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.
Social Studies Teacher
Leesville Road High School
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.
North Carolina English Teacher