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The letter that follows was penned by John deVille , a public school teacher in Macon County, NC, to Jim Davis, his state senator.
Dear Senator Davis:
Macon County Schools, Haywood County Schools, and all the other school systems in your district and the state of North Carolina, are bracing for a wave of fiscal chaos to wash over them this coming fall. This chaos can only be undone by you and your fellow Senators.
We do not understand why it’s coming and what North Carolina children have done to deserve it.
We are speaking about the class-size cap which was passed in 2016. Your goal was simple and praiseworthy: create smaller K-3 classes in North Carolina. But without the necessary funding for both personnel and for the newly-required classrooms, what was praiseworthy will convert to classroom poison.
• We will lose art, music, and physical education classes for K-3 students.
• We will suffer larger class sizes in grades 4 – 12.
• Many school systems will have to have 40 first, second, and third grade students in a single room with two teachers in order to comply with the law.
• School systems will have to eliminate crucial programs in order to finance the class size mandate.
Last spring, the NC Senate faced a similar warning from across the state and even from the NC House. Representative Kevin Corbin was one of four primary sponsors of a bill to mitigate the damage which would be done by the class size cap and he was joined in passing the legislation by ALL Republicans and Democrat members of the NC House.
Finally, you and your fellow Senators gave us a one-year reprieve but the chaos watch has started anew.
Consider who is saying the class size cap law is bad policy:
• Every single Republican and Democratic representative in the NC House.
• Your hometown newspaper, The Franklin Press, published an editorial to this effect last April.
• All 115 school boards and all 115 superintendents across the state have said that this legislation will lead to fiscal chaos in their respective districts. It will cost Macon County Schools a minimum of $350,000 to comply and yet we will still be underwater. It will cost Haywood County Schools $1.9 million to comply and yet they will still be chop other educational opportunities and suffer larger classes outside of K-3.
• The NC PTA, which has never stepped onto the political stage, passed a resolution in early January demanding a repeal of the class size cap.
• As a former Macon County Commissioner, you yourself frequently denounced “unfunded mandates” — demands passed by the General Assembly which have no funding attached and thus force counties to pick up a tab for a meal they didn’t order. There is consensus from numerous outside sources, as well as from all one hundred county commissions, that this class size cap law is indeed an unfunded mandate. Absolutely no credible evidence has been offered that the law has been funded and so your own principles condemn this law as it now stands.
Last spring, we were promised a fix in the fall…none was forthcoming. In the fall, we were promised a fix in January, none has occurred. And now we are counseled to wait until May, with no guarantees that a solution will come even at that late date, long past the March/April window when county commissions and school boards put their finishing touches on the upcoming year’s school budget.
Senator Davis, can you please offer the children of North Carolina, our parents, and our teachers the desperately needed leadership in the Senate and lead your fellow Senators to either repeal this law or fully fund the mandate? Just last week, the highly-respected Education Week noted that North Carolina public schools had fallen from 19th to 40th in the space of 2011 to present…can you please help us turn this around?
By Angela Scioli, Wake County teacher
It’s hard to believe we are staring down the 5th year of Red4EdNC’s existence. In the documentary Teacher of the Year, the founding of Red4Ed is recorded and captures the naivete we brought to the task. I can’t speak for my colleagues, but I really did believe that if teachers made their concerns public, through wearing Red 4 Ed on Wednesdays, the “butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker” would soon join us and it would just be a matter of time before elected officials felt the pressure and adopted different policies.
We magnified our message by writing articles and circulating our perspectives widely to inform the public. We hoped to increase the political pressure by taking to the streets, multiple times, to march and protest funding cuts and misguided policies, including a 23-mile march to speak with Governor McCrory that ended in the arrest of 14 of our fellow teachers and new friends. We felt that surely the arrest of teachers in an election year would awaken the public to the gravity of the situation. To ensure a better electoral outcome, we initiated a statewide ballot project and advised voters across the state who they should vote for in local and state education-related races.
We miscalculated. We miscalculated how pervasive gerrymandering is and how it has insulated our elected officials from the electorate. We overestimated the impact outsider tactics like mass protest can have, largely because we underestimated how hard it is to get thousands of time-strapped and underpaid teachers to give yet more of their valuable time to stand out in cold and heat. We were unaware the degree to which our target audiences aren’t getting informed by our perspectives because we are all safely ensconced in our comfortable “echo chambers,” where social media reverberates our ideas back at us, more eloquently perhaps, but rarely disrupting our point of view.
Alternatively, wearing Red 4 Ed on Wednesdays has been a success, but for different reasons than we anticipated. Wearing red has been adopted by lots of groups and is now the universal visual symbol of education advocacy. In that process, we’ve lost a little control of our brand, but we’ve gained a collective sense of identity and purpose that is powerful and palpable. Teaching is strangely isolating and we rarely have time for a decent conversation with our colleagues, much less engage in deep policy discussion related to our profession. In the crushing time constraints of teaching, when we are all working to meet the needs of our students and society, it’s affirming on a Wednesday to see our colleagues in red. It infuses the building with a shared identity, a solidarity, a “yep, we’re in this together, awake and aware,” yet it does not disrupt or delay us in achieving our professional purpose. Morale building like that, in this climate, is of inestimable value, even if the “butcher and the baker” aren’t joining the fun.
Participation in street level protests has been reframed for us, too. When we are able, we find it productive to show up. But we have different expectations. A successful protest is now defined by an affirmative answer to either of two questions, (1)“Did that gathering of like-minded folks feed our souls and strengthen us for future action?” and (2) “Did we network with other key education stakeholders and advocates in a meaningful way that might yield tangible benefits down the road?” By that measure, any protest can be powerful, no matter how many people show up.
At the same time we were engaging in “outsider tactics” like protest and writing, we were developing skills to pivot to more of an “inside game.” Through participation in district level work groups and two of our Board members becoming Fellows with the Hope Street Group, we expanded our understanding of how policy is made, how effective networking can help teachers influence that process, and we developed ideas of what policy initiatives might find traction in the realities of the current political climate. While being firm in our opposition to short-sighted policies of the present, like the unfunded K-3 class size caps currently confounding school districts, we are also committed to improving our schools, school climate and teacher working conditions by proposing real world solutions and specific policies we can achieve now.
In spring of 2017, we began a concerted effort to craft a concrete policy proposal for consideration by elected officials at the state level. Our experience told us that a policy related to (1) identifying and elevating effective educators in a fair, data-driven way, (2) providing cost effective and tailored professional development that included TIME for teachers, and (3) easing the administrative supervisory burden on administrators would be well received. And, in time, PROJECT IGNITE3(Inspiring Growth & New Instructional Techniques by Elevating Effective Educators) was born. With the help of key staffers and elected officials in the General Assembly and Department of Public Instruction, we have polished our pitch and are gaining traction. We are expanding outreach to more and more elected leaders and other education advocacy groups. Our conviction is growing that in a short time, our pilot project proposal will be written up as a bill we can actively lobby for.
It’s an exciting process, but we need your help. Can you read more about the policy proposal here and help us make it even better? We need teachers from rural areas, alternative settings, all grades and disciplines to weigh in. We have an unfortunate history of making ed policy with unforeseen consequences and don’t want to continue that trend. We want to anticipate every possible outcome to ensure this policy is as effective as possible. If you have feedback, please take a moment and complete this form. We really need your input.
Red4Ed was founded on the principle that there is a moderate majority of North Carolinians who support strong public schools. We think that majority knows strong public schools are the key to making the American Dream a realistic possibility for every American. We will continue to evolve our tactics and policies to achieve that vision. Give us feedback, follow us on Facebook, and check our website, red4ednc.com, for updates. We will keep you in the loop as we learn to navigate a “third way” to make effective education policy in North Carolina.