August, 2016

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NC Teachers: Are We Still Seeing (and Wearing) Red?

By Angela Scioli, Wake County Public School Teacher

You know how your Facebook feed hits you with a photo you posted from years past, causing you to reflect on how long ago something actually was?  Sometimes that helps you take stock of how far you have come from that day.  Or not.

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This picture came up:  It is from the summer of 2013, when my teacher friends and I realized that state policies regarding education had gotten all out of whack, and we needed to take action to bring change.  So I wrote this letter stating we should Wear Red 4 Ed on Wed(nesday) as a visual symbolic protest. And Red4EdNC was launched.  Since then we have started a website, written articles that circulated statewide, sold 500 t-shirts, attended protests, produced an occasional podcast, lobbied our elected leaders, and joined networks that collect data to write reports to shape policy.  I even had a documentary crew follow me around for a year, and that film is about to come out (titled Teacher of the Year).

As the movie will show, all this advocacy has taken quite a toll on us and our families, and unlike most organizations, we’d really like to quit, close up shop, and just go back to teaching.  Based on current campaign commercials, you might assume we can do just that and all is well with education in NC.  Maybe we could burn our accumulated red wardrobes in a celebratory pyre!

Not so fast.

This movement has never been about teacher pay raises, and even if it were, only 3 out of 10 NC teachers have truly received an increase in salary since 2013.  We did not become teachers for the pay.  We might get out of teaching because of inadequate pay, but pay is not what really makes us tick.

We became teachers for the students.  We want them to learn and grow.  Students are still suffering, however, because of the misguided priorities that have shaped education policy since 2013:

  • About 3,000 teacher positions and 9,000 teacher assistant positions in NC have vanished since 2011.
  • North Carolina jumped to 46th in the country in per-pupil spending from 47th in the country in 2013-14 per-pupil spending.
  • North Carolina spends 14.5% less per student than it did before the recession. That’s a bigger drop than all but six other states. (FY08 to FY15, inflation-adjusted).
  • North Carolina spends $855 less per student than it did before the recession. That’s a bigger drop than all but five other states (FY08 to FY15, inflation-adjusted).
  • In 2007-08, the state allocated just over $83 million for classroom materials, instructional supplies and equipment, according to numbers from the N.C. Department of Public Instruction. During the last school year, the state allocated around $44.3 million . . . AND the state has eliminated the school supply tax holiday weekend.

This whole situation is like that last class of the day that often drives you crazy.  They test your patience, cause you to feel hopeless, and sometimes, make you want to just give up.  But no, the stakes are just too high.  These are not chess pieces on a board or widgets hitting the factory floor.  These are human souls with a story and vast potential.  And we cannot walk away from this larger fight any more than we can walk away from one our students.

So we must keep wearing Red on Wed., and we must keep writing, and speaking, and posting, AND VOTING – doing what we can, when we can, as much as we can.

Our students deserve more.  And until they get more, if the flag drops, one of us will pick it up, and all of us will keep moving.  I look forward to the day we can rest.  That day is just not yet, but it is coming.

How will you know?  When you see or smell a plume of red polyester rising up over Raleigh.  A celebratory funeral pyre of red.  I can’t wait!

Put Down the Gradebook and Vote

by Heather Dinkenor, Wake County Public School Teacher

Let me say as a precursor, I am not trying to vote shame anyone, but looking at public election records, (https://enr.ncsbe.gov/voter_search_public/) educators do not consistently cast a vote. We are agents of change, beacons of hope, role models for youth. As metaphors for many positive aspects of the future, why, why? are we educators not consistent voters, directly affecting the future?

In so many aspects of our lives as teachers, we put ourselves last: We go to school sick rather than stay at home. We use our own money to purchase classroom supplies. We give up parts of our summers for extra training. We sometimes put our own children in line behind our school children (more of them, we often think). Many educators I know (myself included) even planned pregnancy due dates around school calendars.

So on Election Day, I can hear us: Rather than going to the polls, we say, I need to grade this stack of papers. I need to attend this parent conference. I need to set up my classroom for tomorrow’s lab. I need to work out the kinks in this lesson. I need to copy these worksheets. These tasks do need to occur, but not at the expense of voting on November 8.

No doubt, if you are a veteran teacher, the current political ads on NC television exasperate you. $50,000? Where? Who? When? And if you are a new teacher, you probably do not realize the bold lie being told because you look at that number as realistic. After all, you go to college, work hard, save with the belief raises will come; so you assume $50,000 will happen.

If not part of the education sector, you might look at that $50,000 touted by some current NC legislators and think, $50,000? I made that at my first job out of school. Again, sadly, that is what NC teachers aspire to, but may not reach. The ads further fail to explain how some local school systems have kicked in a supplement, putting the burden upon local taxpayers, rather than state government, to get anywhere near that salary amount.

So back to my point: If we as educators choose not to vote, if we choose to do anything else in place of voting, we yet again put ourselves last. But this time, it is not money we sacrifice, nor a week of summer vacation, nor a day to recoup our health; it is our voice we have ransomed off with self-inflicted martyrdom. So call it vote-shaming if you will, but put down the stack of papers, shut the classroom door, and get to the poll. Because if we do not, that $50,000 salary will continue to be a lie that we ourselves helped perpetuate.

Want to Help Fight the Corrupting Influence of Big Money on Politics? Read and Share this post!

By Angela Scioli, Wake County Teacher

Teachers across NC are trying hard not to throw things at their TVs right now.  Politicians with deep pockets are running election ads that tell boldfaced (and subtle) lies.  We teachers know they are misleading the public, but we don’t have the money to buy ads about it.  Heck, it’s August and many of us have been unemployed and without a paycheck for almost three months, and we no longer get that longevity check in June, so we don’t have the money to buy much of anything.  Including supplies for our classrooms.  So, tempers and temperatures are running high.

We’ve been working social media outlets in a scattershot fashion as opportunities arise, but we need a more focused effort, a populist alternative to the TV ad.  So here it is.  We teachers are David, and big money politics is Goliath.  Here’s my rock.  I’m throwing it as hard as I can.  Will you help it gain velocity??

 

#1 They say:

The average teacher in NC earns $50,000+. 

The TRUTH:  North Carolina teachers made an average of $47,985 last school year, about $10,000 less than the average U.S. teacher, who made $58,064.  Average salaries of North Carolina public school teachers dropped 17.4% in real dollars from 2003-04 to 2013-14. Because the new salary schedule created in 2014 by the General Assembly only provides for salary adjustments once every 5 years, and only gave raises to newer teachers, only 32 percent of NC teachers received a raise last year under the budget (meaning 7 out of 10 teachers got no increase at all).

That $50,000+ number is based on a projection that assumes every veteran teacher who taught last year will continue teaching next year.  I assure you that will not happen.  Most of the veteran teachers I know are leaving as soon as possible, as we have not gotten a significant pay raise in years and we lost longevity pay.  It will be interesting to see how we replace all those teachers with the broken teacher pipeline we now have.  When the better paid vets all leave, and new lower paid replacements are hired, average teacher pay will drop, not rise.

 

#2  They say:

North Carolina is 9th in the nation for education spending. 

The TRUTH:

We are one of only a few states that puts the burden of funding public schools on the state government through the state constitution.  The rest fund schools more through local funding, which is why their local property taxes are so high compared to ours.  The above claim should read something like, “We are 9th out of 10 states that rely primarily on state funds to fund education”.  Not quite as impressive, right?

funding ranking 12-13 II

 

 

 

 

 

In case you can’t see, we are 47th in the nation in education funding, with 62% of our funding coming from the state, 25% from local sources and 13% from federal. ‘SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data (CCD), “National Public Education Financial Survey,” 2012-13.

 

#3:  They say:

NC is spending more than they ever have on education.

The TRUTH:  That is only because our student population has grown.  Spending per pupil has gone down 14.5% since 2008.  That’s $855 dollars less per student in real dollars.  That matters.

 

#4:  They say:

We have increased the textbook fund.  

The TRUTH:  Textbook funding was increased in 2014, after it was slashed in 2013.  The current level of funding is still less than half of what the state invested in textbooks in 2010. The textbook fund was $111 million in 2009-10.  It was $52 million last year.  I still don’t have adequate textbooks for my classroom, and my students don’t have computers.  How do I teach?  Lots and lots of copies.  Paid for by local sources.

Also (bonus fact!), North Carolina has 7,000 fewer TAs in 2015 than it did in 2008.

 

If you have gotten this far, thank you!!!  You are a soldier in a political revolution, in a way.  Now, go forth boldly and conquer – share this post!!!  NC teachers are counting on you to help our students.  The truth is out there, and trust me, it matters.

We Are Strong in Numbers; Therefore, VOTE!

By Stu Egan, Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Public Schools Teacher

July 13, 2016

The current General Assembly should be very scared of us public school teachers and our supporters. That’s because what had originally looked like an election year to simply resupply the NCGA with more conservatively minded demagoguery has now morphed into a debate about how our state government should serve citizens and fully fund our public schools. This GOP-controlled General Assembly and its governor have unintentionally but successfully turned the focus of November’s elections to the vitality of communities (HB3), the fair treatment of all our citizens (HB2), and the right to a quality public education (explicitly defined by Section 15, Article 1 of the NC Constitution).

North Carolina has 100 counties, each with a county public school system. According to the Labor and Economic Analysis Division of the NC Dept. of Commerce, the public schools are at least the second-largest employers in nearly 90 of them—and the largest employer, period, in 66. That means teachers represent a base for most communities, the public school system. And we are strong in numbers.

Those running for the General Assembly in November knew that two years ago; they just didn’t seem to care. They knew it when they attempted to buy teachers’ rights to due process for $500 million after their attempt to eliminate it was declared unconstitutional. They knew it when they froze pay scales and then offered “average” raises to cloud the truth. They knew it when they abolished the Teaching Fellows Program. They knew it when they allowed unregulated charter schools to take money earmarked for public schools. They knew it when they created Opportunity Grants. They knew it when they allowed for an Achievement School District to come to our state. They know that we are losing more continuity and stability among our teaching staffs. If this trend continues at the current pace, the turnover rates in schools will be beyond detrimental to the foundation of public education, and continue to be a signal to aspiring teachers to not even enter the profession. And this is in a state that has highly regarded college educational programs.

Considering the amount of counterproductive measures placed on our public schools today, the fact that we teachers still educate our kids to a high degree of effectiveness tells me that North Carolina’s teachers are still passionate and of merit. Teachers do not define themselves through partisan, political definitions; they define themselves by a duty to educate students and as a team of professionals working together, not individual contractors whose service is dictated by a yearly indenture.

And no acronym or initiative (NCLB, EOG, EOC, AYP, PLAN, ABC, AP, PLAN, PSAT, RttT (Race To The Top), Common Core, ASW, AMO, EVAAS, NCCLAS, NCEES, IEP’s, 504’s, PD, PEP, PDP, PLC, PLT, READY, SCOS, SIT, SIP, STEM, Title I, Title III, and Title IX) can take away the most vital component of education: the studentteacher relationship. When that teacher is respected and valued, then that teacher is more likely to stay. But we have to help ourselves and vote. We have to educate others and get them to vote.

If public education matters to you at all, then please understand the damage this General Assembly has done to our public schools and communities. The number of teachers leaving the state or the profession is staggering. It has given rise to a now all too familiar state slogan: “North Carolina – First in Teacher Flight”.

I strongly urge anyone in North Carolina who cares about public schools to vote this November. If you know anyone in North Carolina who is registered to vote, then please encourage them to do so. You are in a state where public education is under assault by the private sector posing as reformers. If our public school system is to recover and thrive, then this trend must stop.