Break’s Over

EdVotesLogoIf you’ve been reading this blog (and I’m simultaneously grateful and sorry if you have), you may have noticed that the titles of these posts don’t always fit perfectly with the content of them. That’s because they’re titles of episodes of The West Wing and I’m a super-huge nerd. (I may have put those items in the wrong order.) Tonight, for the first time, I was unable to find a halfway appropriate title. Looking back at two-and-a-half months of blog silence, though, I was reminded of a line of dialogue that fit just right.

I’m supposed to be grateful. For the first time since 2008, I received a meaningful raise this year. There are thousands of WCPSS employees who, like me, will experience varying degrees of relief as they rework their household spending to reflect changes enacted by this year’s state budget. And we’ve been reminded by certain policy makers (ahem, Skip Stam) and pundits that we should be grateful.

Let me be clear: I am grateful. I’m grateful to the thousands of public school workers and concerned citizens who organized during the 2013-2014 school year. It was their actions that forced this General Assembly to make an effort to appear to be doing something—anything—about school funding. I’m grateful to the 18,000 WCPSS employees—teachers and bus drivers, administrators and custodians, instructional assistants, clerical staff, counselors, cafeteria workers, central office personnel—who came to work today ready to do their best work for the students of Wake County. And I’m grateful to this school board and leadership team for the exhausting work they’ve done to balance thousands of competing interests and priorities against shrinking resources and a growing student population.

I am glad to have extra money in my paycheck—and I’m glad for the thousands of other WCPSS employees who will share that experience. But I’m too angry to be grateful.

I’m angry because teachers with decades of experience have seen that service rewarded with pay raises of 0.3%. I’m angry because classified employees—like custodians and secretaries—who work in public schools only got ½ of the raise that their counterparts in other parts of state government received. I’m angry because legislators bemoan the difficult task of finding money for public schools while simultaneously budgeting money for private school vouchers and creating enormous budget deficits through hundreds of millions of dollars in tax cuts for the wealthiest North Carolinians.

This year’s state budget pays for the average 7% teacher raise with cuts to instructional assistants and Medicaid. And, maybe worst of all, it uncouples school funding from student enrollment growth. That last part, it seems to me, is the clearest sign yet that the General Assembly’s agenda isn’t about building stronger public schools: it’s about eliminating them altogether.

But there’s hope for our schools. There’s hope in the thousands of new hires who began work with the Wake County Public School System this year. There’s hope in the sacrifices made daily by public school workers and parents and community leaders who spend their extra time and money on other people’s children. There’s hope in the public school organizing done across Wake County and the entire state last year. And there’s hope on November 4.

Elections matter—even boring midterm ones. On November 4 we can continue to push back against the neoliberal agenda that is crushing NC’s public schools. If you’re a public school worker, parent, supporter or student who will be of legal voting age on or by Election Day, get registered. Get involved. And get out to vote.

We won’t win overnight. But together we can’t lose.

Access

2020TeachInYesterday, about a dozen public school workers, many of whom I am fortunate to count among my friends, held a teach-in on the second floor of the NC General Assembly. Their intention was to stay there until Phil Berger, President Pro Tempore of the NC Senate, sat down with them. And that’s exactly what they did.

Among those public school workers was Todd Warren, an elementary school Spanish teacher in Guilford County. Before he left for school yesterday morning, he wrote about the decision he made to sit-in at Sen. Berger’s office. With his permission, I’m re-blogging his post here.

WHY I AM SITTING-IN AT NC SEN. PHIL BERGER’S OFFICE

It’s early Monday morning. Very soon I will be leaving the house to teach elementary Spanish like I do every school day. My after-school routine will vary a bit today as I head over to Raleigh to participate in a civil disobedience sit-in at NC Senator Phil Berger’s office with fellow educators, parents, fast-food workers, university students, and other community members in an effort to sound an increasingly desperate alarm for public education. This is not a decision I make lightly. As both a teacher and a parent there are several reasons why I believe public education, as a resource that belongs to all of us, needs immediate attention.

Public education is not failing, it is being systematically dismantled. Most pressing is the education budget recently passed by the NC Senate and now being heard in the House. At its core, the proposed education budget makes basic day-to-day school functioning considerably more difficult. Teacher assistants, school nurses, bus drivers, textbooks, and supplies are  all looking at severe cuts. Again. We say that we want quality education for all children, but continued cuts like these are a direct attack on our ability as educators to do our job properly.

We are being lied to. Folks who work in school buildings are a good lot. Doing more with less is not just a cliche, it’s a way of life for us. Every year we pull together and teach more students, use less materials, hire fewer teachers, and work with growing class sizes; all with increased accountability and testing. This is not sustainable, nor is it necessary. We are constantly told that there is no money in the budget. Not true.The money and the revenue is there. Corporations and the very well-to-do, while making record profits, are being taxed at record lows. Our elected officials are very literally creating more opportunities for the super rich and corporations than they are for children. Time to raise revenue.

We will not be bought. The recent Senate budget addresses a sticky issue for NC politicians: teacher pay. Going into November, there is no viable way that anyone trying to get elected can ignore NC’s abysmal national ranking of 46th in teacher pay. While teachers most certainly welcome a very auspicious 11% election-year raise, the breathtakingly mean-spirited proposal of where the raises would come from is wholly unacceptable. Raising NC teacher pay while cutting another 7,400 teacher assistants is unconscionable. Forcing teachers to choose between a raise and career status is unfair and a breach of contract. Teacher raises, yes; raises for ALL school workers. But know this: we won’t tolerate raises for teachers if they are paid for with education cuts. There is nothing left to cut.

Testing is not learning. As we witness an unprecedented draining of resources from public education through decreasing revenues, regressive taxation, private school vouchers and other privatization schemes, we are subjecting children to an ever increasing battery of tests. I intentionally use the word battery because relentlessly testing children with no regard to research about multiple intelligences and differentiated learning is child abuse. As education professionals we know more than ever about the varied ways students learn. It is a cruel irony that at time when we know better than ever how students learn we are consistently provided less resources to actually meet student needs.

Our problem is not “bad teachers”. A myth being perpetuated by Senator Berger and others is that in order to improve education we need more ways to get rid of bad teachers. By his logic, education will improve as soon as it is easier to fire teachers. From this stems his obsessive focus on ending career status, our due process rights. Apart from the obvious disrespect to us as professionals and the fact that there are already no less than 15 different reasons for which a teacher can be fired, anyone paying attention to the growing teacher exodus in NC should be asking a wholly different question: What are we doing to keep good teachers?

Poverty in NC. As educators, a substantial part of our professional lives revolves around student data and research. Increasing lexile levels, re-teaching standards, reflecting on our teaching to incorporate best practices; the list goes on. Here’s are some basic statistics we don’t talk about often enough: 1 in 4 children in NC lives in poverty; 1 in 2 is from a low-income household. We know without a doubt that reducing poverty increases academic achievement. I am proud to sit-in with fast-food workers and support the fight for a real living wage. If we  want real opportunity for our students, we must stand with their parents as they demand fair pay.

I am a parent. As a father with two children in public school, I know very well what it means to want not just the best for my children academically, but to want the best for them period. By natural extension, what I want for my own children, I want for my students. In this economic and political environment, telling children they can grow up to do whatever they want rings hollow. We are witnessing a cementing in place of class division by lack of access to opportunity. As educators we cannot stand idly by, under the guise of professionalism, and watch as our resources are stripped away from us and our students. Not standing up to these attacks on public education silently condones structural inequalities disproportionately affecting the poor and students of color for whom prison is a very real and menacing alternative.

I’m sitting-in today to say that we, as educators, parents and students, do not accept being asked to do more with less any longer. I’m sitting-in today because we, the people of NC, are better than this.

 

Tomorrow

May14NCGALast week, Governor McCrory announced a plan to raise pay for all NC teachers by 2% as part of a long-term plan to overhaul teacher pay. Pending approval from the General Assembly, the scheme would be piloted by eight school districts, which would work to implement the “performance pay” and “career pathways” portions of the proposal.

On balance, it’s a pretty innocuous proposal and almost exactly what you would expect if you’ve been paying attention to this debate over the course of the school year. (I was a little surprised that the announcement came before without apparent legislative support and I couldn’t help but giggle/gag at the new, voluntary endowment fund which seems to be a part of the plan’s funding scheme.) But there’s a really big problem.

Last summer, the NC General Assembly, with Gov. McCrory’s approval, passed a budget that permanently under-funds NC’s state government. So, if you want to give raises to NC’s state employees–including teachers and bus drivers and teacher assistants–or reduce class sizes or fund new technical education programs, you’ve got to decide which other government programs will be cut first.

Now, some would argue that there are plenty of government programs that ought to be cut. And I might even be able to agree with that. (As long as we can start with corporate welfare.) But I’m pretty sure I know which government programs will be targeted for cuts by this General Assembly–mental health, Medicaid, and food stamps come immediately to mind–and they are programs that are essential to the work that public school workers do.

This is the choice that the leaders of the General Assembly and Gov. McCrory have offered us. But it’s a false choice, driven by ideology, self-interest, and narrow-minded politics. And we don’t have to settle for it.

So tomorrow (that’s 14 May 2014), folks from all over NC will descend on the Legislative Building to remind the leaders of our state’s government that they are meant to serve all of NC’s people. NCAE has a full day of events planned. But if you can’t make it for the whole day, then join us at 4:00p at the NCAE Center (700 S. Salisbury St, Raleigh, 27601) for a rally and march for our schools and our future. I hope to see you tomorrow.

 

Evidence of Things Not Seen

Justice Robin Hudson

This is going to be a short, nerdy post. But it’s also REALLY important and, since you were already gonna vote on Tuesday, it calls for almost no extra effort. Because those things are true, I’m going to ask something of you that I don’t think I’ve ever actually asked before: PLEASE. SHARE. THIS. POST. As widely as you can and as soon as possible. We’ve only got until Tuesday morning to make it count. Thanks. 

Robin Hudson is an Associate Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court. On Tuesday, because of the vagaries of the NC election laws, she’ll appear on the ballot alongside two other candidates, at least one of whom seems to be a well-qualified and principled jurist. (The two candidates who receive the most votes will advance to November’s General Election.)

Now, it happens that Robin Hudson is a registered Democrat and her opponents are both Republicans. That shouldn’t actually matter in a non-partisan election like this one. But the Greensboro News & Record explains why it does:

An independent political organization called Justice for All North Carolina just spent more than $500,000 on TV ads saying [Hudson goes] easy on child molesters.

That’s dishonest, twisting a complex issue into a nasty sound bite. In 2010, the Supreme Court considered whether a new law requiring satellite-based monitoring could be applied retroactively to sex offenders sentenced before the law was enacted. It touched on a constitutional principle barring ex post facto punishments.

The court ruled 4-3 in favor of retroactive application, deciding that monitoring was not punitive. Hudson wrote the dissenting opinion, and sound arguments were made on both sides. Oklahoma’s Supreme Court went the other way in a similar case last year.

Also troubling is the source of the money for these TV ads. Justice for All North Carolina last week reported receiving $650,000 from the Republican State Leadership Committee in Washington. Its largest funders include Koch Industries’ political organization, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Reynolds American and Blue Cross Blue Shield, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

You read that right: some of the same people (their name rhymes with “oak”) who have funded the historic assault on North Carolina’s public schools are spending big money to ensure business-friendly verdicts from NC’s highest court, and are using inflammatory and misleading TV ads to do it. (It’s worth noting that all of this comes in the wake of campaign finance reforms, passed in 2013, that abolished public financing of judicial campaigns and threw open the doors to private financing of this very type.)

Long story short: if you’ve ever been outraged by the neoliberal agenda pushed by the NC General Assembly during 2013, you need to make your way to your polling place, cast a vote for Justice Robin Hudson. She might not win in November. But it would be really bad for all of us if outside money won in May.

Shutdown

CommonCore

This post has been updated.

It looks like it’s a done deal. Mark Binker is reporting that the NC General Assembly will act during the upcoming short session to move away from the Common Core State Standards.

I’m not a huge fan of the Common Core standards. Plenty of really smart, unbelievably well-informed people, Diane Ravitch and Lois Weiner among them, have laid out strong arguments against them: new, “higher” standards alone won’t lift achievement levels; some early grades standards are developmentally inappropriate; no classroom teachers were involved in the creation of these standards; CCSS can’t really fix economic problems rooted in long-standing inequity; the standards were largely written by representatives of education businesses, and it’s those corporate interests that stand to benefit the most; and, of course, it’s one more reason to test the hell out of students and their teachers.

But I think national standards (i.e. the things upon which states build curricula) make sense. And I’ve seen the really solid learning that goes on in, for instance, middle school math classrooms where curricula built on these standards are in place.

Add to that the fact that so much opposition to the standards seemed to come from decidedly un-informed people who opposed them simply because they were national standards (and sometimes, oh-so-cleverly, referred to them as “Obamacore”) and I found myself hoping that, during the implementation of the standards, we would find solutions to their problems.

(Just a brief diversion, here. It seems to me that the ultimate failure of the defenders of the Common Core was in not taking action, right from the start, to defend (although that’s not exactly the word I’m looking for) their left flank. Opposition from the right should’ve been taken for granted and every effort made to guarantee public school educators–who work with preK-12 students every day and would be the ones putting the standards into action–a place of privilege and authority at the CC development table. Parents and students should have been at that table, too, because only a democratic development process could have curtailed the influence of giant edu-corporations.)

Maybe those solutions will come. But they haven’t come to North Carolina soon enough. Instead, we in North Carolina’s public schools must prepare ourselves for new standards. It’s not enough that we’ve been forced to endure countless indignities over the course of the past few years. Now, we get to do the whole, let’s-implement-a-new-curriculum thing. All. Over. Again. And this time, it looks like we’ll be working with standards written by the NC Department of Administration which “acts as the business manager for North Carolina state government.” Ouch.

If the General Assembly’s Educator Effectiveness and Compensation Task Force is any indication, don’t think we can expect too much in the way of democracy from this new Academic Standards Review Commission. But democracy doesn’t have to be invited. It can just show up, say, at the door of the Legislative Building in the hours before the 2014 short session gavels in on May 14 and demand to be taken seriously.

I know it sounds crazy. But if I had told you, last August, that a Guilford County judge would put a hold on Sen. Berger’s 25% Mandate after months of organizing work by public school workers across NC, you probably would’ve thought that sounded crazy, too.

Update: I wouldn’t have been able to write this without the unsolicited–and unwitting–help of Bryan Proffitt. Thanks, B. Also, if you’re curious about the reasons for this move, listen to this story from WUNC’s Reema Khrais. You can draw your own conclusions.

Internal Displacement

It’s been almost six weeks since I’ve paid any attention to this blog. That’s inexcusable, especially because there’s been a lot to write about. (I’m looking at you, “tax reform.”)

But I’m going to ignore all of that for a few days to give space to what is, in my mind, the story of the day: teacher turnover data from the Wake County Public School System.

You can see watch today’s news conference here, if you like. But the numbers are the real story. And here they are, presented without further comment:

TurnoverData

 

In the Room

Last night, the Wake County Board of Education unanimously approved a resolution asking the General Assembly to repeal the divisive, destructive, and demoralizing 25% Mandate and replace it with a meaningful plan that will raise teacher pay to the national average.

It was overwhelming to be surrounded by more than 100 WCPSS educators who came to publicly support this action by the school board. I offer my most sincere thanks to the scores of activist educators, parents, and concerned citizens (like my dad and kid brother) who were in the room last night; any WCPSS “teacher” who wrote an email, signed a petition, or pledged to stand with her colleagues by refusing one of these contracts; my brothers and sisters in the NCAE Organize 2020 Caucus; the Wake County Board of Education and Board Attorney who toiled over the language of the resolution and put themselves on the line to stand up for the teaching profession; and Meighan Davis, Sean McKillop, and everyone who worked on the 2011 and 2013 school board campaigns that made last night’s vote possible.

Last night’s vote was a big deal but the Decline to Sign campaign isn’t over. There’s still time to collect pledges to build unity in your building. And that unity is the really important thing.

Together, we are showing that we have the power to take control of the debate over the future of our public schools. It’s going to be a long, hard fight. But. We’re. Winning.

Tonight and later this week, Boards of Education in Durham and Buncombe Counties, and in Chapel Hill-Carrboro will consider resolutions or further action against the 25% mandate. And, from the looks of it, there are more school boards with this kind of action in the works.

So, as we make our way through the spring semester, let’s remember how good it feels to work together to make things happen for our coworkers, our schools, and the students we serve. And with that feeling in mind, let’s keep fighting until every child has equitable access to a free, public school education and every educator is treated and compensated like a professional.