North Carolina’s Voter ID amendment is a 21st century poll tax

The six constitutional amendments on North Carolina’s general election ballot in November range from absurd (protect the already-protected right to hunt and fish) to downright dangerous (enable court packing by the General Assembly).  But none threaten our state’s democratic processes more than the Voter ID amendment.

The Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution states that “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”  After this amendment was adopted in 1870, poll taxes were instituted in most of the Southern states–including North Carolina–to keep African American citizens who couldn’t afford to pay them from voting. This system remained in place until the 1960s.

Fast forward to 2018.  Sensing their eight-year stranglehold on power is drawing to a close, North Carolina’s GOP supermajority is embarking on another attempt to disenfranchise African American voters.  The Voter ID amendment requires a majority vote and would “require voters to provide photo identification before voting in person.”  If the amendment is approved, the General Assembly will determine what sort of ID is acceptable when it reconvenes on November 27.

Supporters of Voter ID laws often cite the need to curb rampant voter fraud.  However, a 2017 audit by the NC State Board of Elections found almost no such fraud existed.  The audit showed only one occurrence out of nearly 5 million votes cast in the 2016 general election in which the vote would have been prevented by requiring photo ID.  In that case, a woman voted for Donald Trump on her deceased mother’s behalf because her mom was a huge Trump fan and had passed away just days before the presidential election.

Apart from being completely unnecessary, the biggest problem with the proposed Voter ID requirement is that it will function as a 21st century poll tax to silence African American votes–which is precisely its intent.  A report from the Budget and Tax Center says that 1 in 20 voters in Mecklenburg County don’t have a DMV-issued ID.  African Americans constitute 33% of voters in Mecklenburg but make up 50% of voters who lack ID.  The cost of securing ID is estimated at about $100 including lost wages, travel, and associated fees.  That cost will be borne largely by people of color who can least afford it. How many will opt not to vote when faced with a choice between casting a ballot and putting food on the table?

This is not the first time the current GOP supermajority has used Voter ID to try to disenfranchise African Americans.  In 2016, a federal court struck down 2013 election reforms passed by the North Carolina General Assembly, ruling that they were “enacted with racially discriminatory intent.”  The court’s ruling stated that the legislation–which included strict photo ID requirements–targeted African American voters “with almost surgical precision.”  That court battle cost North Carolina taxpayers approximately $11 million, and we’ll be the ones paying for the next battle as well if this amendment passes.  On November 6, North Carolina voters need to be sure that this 21st century poll tax is defeated.

 

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Don’t believe NC campaign rhetoric! Easily check incumbents’ voting records on catastrophic education changes.

It’s that time of the election cycle when silver tongues are at their busiest.  The long overdue breaking of the North Carolina GOP’s General Assembly supermajority is at hand, and many of those in office are making increasingly desperate claims in an effort to hold on to power.  Those claims include assertions that the major education reforms of the past 8 years have been good for North Carolina’s children.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The truth is the last 8 years have been catastrophic for public education in our state.  Our leadership has prioritized tax cuts for the rich over funding for our crumbling schools.  They’ve enacted legislation which buries 3rd graders under piles of tests and threatens them with retention if they still struggle with reading.  They’ve opened the floodgates to charter schools, deepening racial and economic segregation in our state. They’ve implemented a school report card system which measures levels of poverty more than it does academic success, unfairly stigmatizing our most needy schools as failures.  And the majority of those reforms have been made through legislation inserted into budgets, deliberately avoiding committee processes allowing for public debate and modifications by members of the General Assembly that are so essential to developing good policy.

Public education in NC is a shell of what it was 8 years ago.  But there is good news. Voters are now in a position to remove the leaders that have supported the harmful policies this supermajority has enacted–as long as their votes are informed.  Rather than be swayed by charming campaign rhetoric and slick graphics, North Carolina residents need to look at how those in power have actually voted. Fortunately, Heather Scott, candidate for Board of Education in Wake County, just made that a whole lot easier.

Heather created this helpful chart of harmful education policies complete with bill numbers to help you easily look up which current state legislators voted to support them.

To look up the vote history for any of the legislation referenced on the chart, follow these simple steps:

*Browse to ncleg.net

*Set the search options at the top to ‘full site search’

*Plug in the bill number from Heather’s chart and click ‘Go’

*Select the version of the bill labeled ‘Information/History,’ and verify that you’re looking at the relevant bill as bill numbers are recycled

*Scroll down to Vote History,  and click on the blue text that says ‘PASS’ for the final version of the bill, [S] for Senate and [H] for House.

*You will see who voted ‘Aye’ and who voted ‘No’ on the legislation.

(*Note that the search function at ncleg.net can be uncooperative at times.  I often have better luck using Google to find the Vote History for specific NC bills.)

Big thanks to Heather Scott for doing the research and developing a graphic to help ensure that North Carolina voters can vote for pro-public education candidates on November 6.

New research indicates suspending young boys doesn’t change their behavior

A new study out of the University of Michigan finds that kindergartners and first graders who are suspended from school are likely to be suspended again in elementary school.  The trends are especially elevated for African American male students and call into question the effectiveness of suspending young children in order to change future behavior.

Researcher Zibei Chen of the University of Michigan School of Social Work says suspensions in the first two years of school can begin a downward trend that is difficult to correct:  “Not only are children who are suspended at a young age missing out on time spent in early learning experiences, but they are also less likely to be referred to services and supports they need to thrive in later school years.”

Key findings of the study:

  • Boys rated by teachers as aggressive, defiant and disruptive are more likely to be suspended than girls. They are also less engaged in school.
  • Girls rated by teachers as disruptive and lacking in parental school involvement are more likely to be suspended.
  • Significant predictors of suspension in kindergarten and first grade also predicted suspension one and three years later.
  • Boys and African-American students are more likely to be suspended than girls and white and Hispanic students, respectively, the study indicated.

 

Researchers suggest that schools look at predictors of early elementary suspension and develop interventions to address them.

As Hurricane Florence approaches, Charlotte-area children get a real life lesson in empathy

emergency shelter, East Meck High School gymnasium

Yesterday I found myself, just like all the other teachers in my school, leading a monthly character lesson.  This one happened to be on empathy. My students and I talked about the novel Wonder and the importance of standing shoulder-to-shoulder with those in need of support.  We discussed how we can make the world a better place through how we choose to treat others.  Students dutifully participated in the activity, but it felt very theoretical—probably because it was.

Just a few hours later, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools announced school closures for Thursday and Friday in response to the threat posed to North Carolina by Hurricane Florence.  The statement opened by saying “ Together, we can be the neighbors we teach our students to be.” It continued

Hurricane Florence has forced evacuations to emergency shelters and we must consider safety in new ways. CMS is proud to serve our state and region by opening several CMS school campuses as emergency shelters led by the Red Cross in partnership with other agencies. Emergency shelters opened today for evacuees at CMS high school campuses including East Mecklenburg, South Mecklenburg, North Mecklenburg, Olympic and Ardrey Kell. Emergency shelters at additional schools may be opened.

 

These emergency shelters are staffed and provisioned by the Red Cross with support from partner agencies to meet shelter, medical, nutrition, comfort, safety and security needs. CMPD and CMS-PD are supporting shelters with officers, equipment and communications assistance.

 

CMS believes that supporting our neighbors in need is the right thing to do for our state, community and people affected by Hurricane Florence

Parent reactions to CMS’s decision were predictably mixed, with some praising the move but others choosing to see the issue only in terms of the personal inconvenience posed by unexpectedly having to take care of their own children:

This morning I took my son and daughter to East Meck High School under sunny blue skies to see shelter preparations first hand.  On the way there we talked about what 30+” of rain and winds over a hundred miles an hour can do to your home, of the destruction caused by storm surge and flash flooding, of the implications of living with no electricity or clean water for days on end.  

When we got to the high school, evacuees had just begun to trickle in.  In the gymnasium, dozens of cots with Red Cross blankets on them lined the floor in neat rows.  A handful of kids sat playing games and coloring at a table and a gentleman sat alone in the bleachers reading his Bible.  An enthusiastic group of volunteers stood ready to welcome some of the more than one million people expected to evacuate coastal areas of the Carolinas.  It was a powerful lesson for my kids in the importance of identifying with how others are feeling and providing support when we’re able to do so.

emergency shelter, East Meck High School gymnasium

I’ll grant you that there probably aren’t a lot of CMS students complaining about having some unexpected days off school, whatever the reason.  But let’s not miss the opportunity for them to learn an essential, real-life lesson. Our kids won’t learn to be the people we want them to be through hearing us talk.  They’ll learn it through watching our actions. And today I’m very proud of the actions that my school district and community are taking to provide help to those in need.

East Meck High School

Berger’s education claims are lipstick on a pig

As official public school test results were released this week, Senator Phil Berger sang the praises of North Carolina’s Republican legislature’s education policy.  The new batch of GOP campaign graphics he tweeted spoke of effective ‘major education reforms’ which have strengthened student literacy, among other things.

Time for a little fact checking.

Berger’s major education reform when it comes to literacy was the Read to Achieve initiative.  When Read to Achieve was passed in 2012, the legislation was intended to end social promotion and help 3rd graders avoid what Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger called the “economic death sentence” awaiting students who are unable to read proficiently. The initiative attempted to improve reading by increasing the volume of assessment in grades K-3 and ratcheting up the threats of retention, essentially punishing children for not being able to read well enough in early grades.  That’s not the approach an effective teacher would take. A good educator works to understand where the child is coming from and develop unique supports that best fit his or her individual circumstances. A good educator knows that punitive measures seldom result in long term success.

Take a look at how Berger’s education reform has really impacted student literacy:

Apart from a 0.1% increase from 2015-16 to 2016-17, third grade reading proficiency in North Carolina has declined every single year since Read to Achieve was implemented and is down a whopping 5% overall, with last year’s test results showing the sharpest decline.

The data is clear that Berger’s Read to Achieve initiative has completely failed in its goal of strengthening student literacy.  It’s dishonest and insulting to the intelligence of North Carolina voters to claim otherwise in an effort to gain political support.

We’re two months away from the most important elections in recent memory, and Berger is opposed by Jen Mangrum, an educator with her own ‘major education reforms’ in mind.  Those reforms include substantial teacher pay raises, a reduction in the avalanche of standardized tests our children are subjected to as a result of Read to Achieve, and measuring school success in a fair and equitable manner.

Public education in North Carolina is in critical condition as a result of the GOP supermajority’s policies.   We need to vote for candidates who believe that public education is the cornerstone of building the society that we want in North Carolina.  And we need to hold our current leadership accountable for their failed policies, especially when they try to spin them as successes.

After all, you can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig.

 

Senator Jen Mangrum would be a game changer for education in North Carolina

Jen at May 16 Rally for Respect in Raleigh (photo credit Jen Mangrum)

Recently I had the pleasure of talking with Jen Mangrum, a UNC-Greensboro professor in teacher education and first time candidate for office who is running for the Senate seat currently held by the most powerful man in North Carolina–Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger.  

Jen told me what makes her tick, what concerns her about trends in education in NC, and how Phil Berger’s rise to holding a virtual monopoly on political power has weakened democracy in our state.  I offer up much of our conversation here in the hopes that it will be useful as North Carolina voters educate themselves ahead of our most critical election in years.

Jen always knew she wanted to be a teacher.  She was raised by two educators–her mom was a kindergarten teacher who taught Jen through her example to be ready to stand up for what you believe in.  Early in her career she fought for female teachers to have the right to wear pants to work since she often found herself sitting on the floor with her students.  Another time, there was a child in the community named Buddy who had cerebral palsy, and the school’s administration didn’t want to place him in a mainstream classroom because of the difficulty dealing with his special needs.  Jen’s mom fought for him to be allowed to be part of her class. He was admitted and later became a pediatrician.

Jen’s father was a career Marine, fighting in World War 2, Korea, and Vietnam.  He retired in 1967 and decided to become an elementary teacher, earning first his GED, then his associate’s degree from the local community college, then graduating from UNC-W and becoming a fourth grade teacher at high-poverty Bell Fork Elementary in Onslow County.

When Jen’s mother was 49, she was getting ready for school one day and had a massive heart attack that ended her life.  Not knowing where to go when her father left in the ambulance, Jen went to school. She knew that her teachers cared about her and that it was a safe place to be.  It comes as no surprise that a child who would seek out her teachers on the worst day of her life would later feel called to become a teacher herself.

Jen reading to kindergarten class (photo credit Jen Mangrum)

Jen’s favorite part about teaching is being part of the community and being close to the families that she serves.  She loves staying connected with those students and families over time and seeing years later the adults that the kids she taught in third grade have become.  Her belief that education has the power to lift people up and transform their lives is a big part of why she’s so troubled by trends in North Carolina’s public education system under the current supermajority and under the Senate leadership of Phil Berger.

Many of the problems we see in public education today can be traced back to the No Child Left Behind Act, which ushered in our current era of high stakes testing, shifted the way teachers worked, and paved the way for the privatization of education.  Jen notes that when there is money to be made, it changes the primary goal to pursuit of personal profit. Public education is the heart of democracy, and our goals need to remain preparing students to be informed citizens who are in a position to lead happy, high quality lives.  Instead, we have a current system in our state where we stigmatize schools that suffer from high poverty as failing schools, then move to turn them over to private, for-profit entities instead of trying to deal with the root causes of poverty. We have high teacher turnover in our state and continue to struggle to attract students to our universities’ teacher preparation programs.  We’ve long since lost the status we once held as a national leader in public education.

In terms of her opponent’s role in the downward trend we’ve seen in education in North Carolina, Jen points out that Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger holds all the cards, and everyone must fall into line behind him by virtue of his position or risk his wrath.  Because of the power in his authority to bring bills to the floor, Berger is able to single-handedly prevent legislation from moving forward, even if every single member of the Senate is in favor of it. For example, NC Senator Jeff Jackson has attempted to close a loophole unique to North Carolina law which prevents individuals from revoking consent after a sexual act has begun, even if the encounter becomes violent.  It’s a common sense move that should have broad, bipartisan support.  Although nobody has specifically come out in opposition to the bill, it has mysteriously stalled in the Senate Rules committee.  When interviewed by the Fayetteville Observer last year after Jackson’s third attempt to amend the law, Senator Berger said, “There are a lot of times that folks will come to us, and want us (to) ‘Change this law now!’  And I just don’t know that’s the way we need to respond to things when you’ve got a period of 30 years where apparently the law has been unchanged, and no one has brought this to anybody’s attention. At least, I’m not aware of it.”  No one except for maybe Jeff Jackson. Three times.

In the most recent short session, proponents of public education were eagerly waiting for the General Assembly to take up a proposed $1.9 billion school bond for inclusion on the November general election ballot.  The bond would have helped address $8.1 billion in statewide capital needs identified by the Department of Public Instruction in 2015-16.  It enjoyed bipartisan rank and file support and sponsorship by chairs of education committees in both the House and the Senate. Again, Phil Berger would not allow the legislation to move forward.  It’s incredibly frustrating that one individual who doesn’t share the values most of us have can prevent much-needed progress, but Jen reminded me that voters ultimately decide whether he keeps that power or not.

In terms of her own vision for education in North Carolina, Jen supports paying teachers fairly to demonstrate that we value public education in our state. She would like to see masters pay reinstated as well as the full Teaching Fellows Program which was eliminated by the General Assembly in 2011.  She would like to see a reduction in the testing volume which is currently not developmentally appropriate and narrows the curriculum, leaving less time and attention to the arts, the sciences, and social studies in the elementary grades. She supports moves toward determining the success of our schools using multiple measures, trusting teachers as professionals and giving them the creative freedom that they need to do their jobs.  Jen wants to see North Carolina known nationally for its birth to pre-K, k-12, and higher education continuum and believes that electing pro-education legislators is the key to seeing that transformation come true.

Jen teaching at UNC-Greensboro (photo credit Jen Mangrum)

There is so much at stake in the 2018 election.  We need to vote for candidates who believe that public education is the cornerstone of building the society that we want in North Carolina.  But as we look for candidates who meet that description, it’s equally important that we carefully review the work of our current leaders and decide whether or not we want to take away their power.  In the case of future Senator Jen Mangrum, voters are in a position to both elect the strongest pro-education candidate imaginable and remove the greatest obstacle to progress in our state.

Interested in supporting Jen’s campaign?  You can find her donation page here

North Carolina’s principal pay plan does more harm than good

 

When school buses start to roll across the state this month for the beginning of school year 2018-19, North Carolina principals will begin their second year of a performance-based compensation system.  It’s a system that was enacted in the 2017 budget bill, deliberately avoiding committee processes allowing for public debate and modifications by members of the General Assembly that are so essential to developing good policy.

Under the new system, principals are no longer compensated based on years of experience, given longevity bonuses or paid a higher rate for advanced degrees they’ve earned.  Instead, they receive a salary based on how much their students grew on standardized tests at the end of the year and how many students attend their school.

State lawmakers initiated the change after North Carolina principal pay fell to an embarrassing 50th in the nation in 2016, vowing to “give more pay to principals who could move their schools to a higher performing level.”  

It’s impossible to know what research lawmakers did before deciding that EVAAS test data was the best way to determine which principals were performing at the highest level.  But it’s a pretty safe bet their decisions weren’t shaped by the study “Can student test scores provide useful measures of school principals’ performance?

In September of 2016, a report was released by the US Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences.  It detailed findings of researchers who wanted to figure out whether use of student test growth data is an accurate way of measuring principal effectiveness.

The study found “little evidence that any widely feasible test-based measures could accurately predict principals’ contributions in the following year.”  Researchers pointed out that a primary goal of any evaluation of effectiveness should be gaining information about principals’ future contributions to student outcomes, concluding

…value-added measures will make plenty of mistakes when trying to identify principals who will contribute effectively or ineffectively to student achievement in future years.  Therefore, states and districts should exercise caution when using these measures to make major decisions about principals. Given the inaccuracy of the test-based measures, state and district leaders and researchers should also make every effort to identify non-test measures that can predict principals’ future contributions to student outcomes.

In addition to relying on faulty predictions for future success, North Carolina’s principal pay plan dismisses the value of experience in shaping effective school leaders.  That’s also a move that doesn’t stand up to research.  A study of New York City schools found a positive relationship between principal experience and school performance, which was broadly defined to include not just test scores, but other measures such as student absences.  Researchers suggested an important takeaway from their findings should be that ‘policies that lengthen principals’ careers will, on average, improve school performance.’

Leading a school is a tremendously challenging job which requires a complex set of skills.  Many of those skills cannot be taught in graduate school but must be mastered through years of trial and error.  Experienced principals are better positioned to cultivate relationships that will lead to success, support teachers instructionally, and train the next generation of school administrators in how to lead effectively.  Their compensation should recognize and reward the value that they bring to the job.

One of the most troublesome outcomes of North Carolina’s principal pay plan is that it could discourage principals from working in schools that need strong leadership the most.  North Carolina’s principal pay rate is based on the last three years of growth data.  If a principal who has been rated “exceeded growth” for three consecutive years moves into a low-performing school, he or she has only two years to bring the new school up to the “exceeded” level before seeing a reduction in salary if the growth rate drops.  In schools that generally employ the least experienced teachers and have the highest rates of teacher turnover, that’s a very difficult proposition. Given the right conditions, it might be possible for a rock star principal to move into a school and help spark quick growth.  However, in chronically low-achieving schools suffering from the effects of systemic poverty, just changing principals is unlikely to solve the root problems behind the low test scores. Those schools need a lot more than a new principal.

When the new pay plan was implemented, some NC principals faced reductions in salary of more than $20,000.  The legislature’s response to concerns was to institute a ‘hold harmless’ clause whereby principals who didn’t see enough standardized test growth would see their salaries frozen at the level of the previous year.  The clause was renewed for the upcoming school year, but again frozen at 2016-17 levels, meaning principals whose students didn’t show enough growth will see a second straight year with no raise. That’s not an effective approach when it comes to attracting and retaining school leaders.  Indeed, the fact that a hold harmless clause is necessary at all serves as an acknowledgement that the pay plan has major flaws.

The new principal pay plan is so problematic that some North Carolina school districts have taken to using local funds to continue to pay principals based on years of experience.  Rewarding experienced principals for their long term commitment and honoring the skill set they bring to the table helps districts such as Durham, Winston-Salem/Forsyth, and Guilford to be more competitive when it comes to attracting and retaining school leaders.  However, few districts have the resources to circumvent the General Assembly’s compensation model in this manner.

Principals are second only to teachers among school-related factors in terms of impact on student learning.  It’s essential that we treat them in ways that will lengthen their careers and encourage the best among them to work in schools where their talents are needed most.  The General Assembly’s current approach to compensation does a grave disservice to our veteran principals and could further weaken North Carolina’s low-performing schools.  It’s a model in need of a major overhaul.

 

 

 

The myth of school choice in North Carolina

*this article appeared in the Washington Post

It’s a common refrain among charter school and voucher advocates:  “We need to provide families with choice.” And on its face, it sounds pretty good–we all expect choice when we go to the store for peanut butter, don’t we?  But what happens when all my peanut butter options are equally unpalatable, except for the ones that are priced beyond my means? Does the fact that I have a choice really make much of a difference at that point?

Since the cap on charter schools was lifted by North Carolina’s state legislature in 2012, the number of charter schools in the state has nearly doubled.  This year we will have 185 charter schools in operation, serving more than 100,000 students across the state (overseen by a staff of 8 people).  That’s a lot of peanut butter, with very little quality control.

While charter schools in some states have been used successfully to improve academic performance for low income students, in North Carolina they’ve been used predominantly as a vehicle for affluent white folks to opt out of traditional public schools.  Trends of racial and economic segregation that were already worrisome in public schools before the cap was lifted have deepened in our charter schools. Now more than two thirds of our charter schools are either 80%+ white or 80%+ students of color.  Charter schools are not required to provide transportation or free/reduced-price meals, effectively preventing families that need help in those areas from having access to the best schools.

Academic achievement in our hypersegregated charter schools has played out along socioeconomic lines, just as it generally does in traditional public schools.  Charter schools that serve primarily low-income families have struggled, with percentages of charter schools rating D or F according to NC’s school report card system exceeding those of their traditional public school counterparts.  On the other end of the spectrum, charter schools rated A or B are more common than traditional public schools that earn those grades. They’re also populated mostly by wealthy white students.

A 2014 study by researchers at UNC-Chapel Hill found that students of color in segregated schools tended to make smaller gains in reading than students of color in more integrated schools.  Research also shows that white students don’t experience a decline in those integrated settings. Segregated schools are more likely to have inexperienced teachers, higher teacher turnover and student mobility, and lower quality facilities.  Students at more integrated schools see improved academic outcomes, increased educational attainment, and increased likelihood of living and working in diverse settings.  

Despite the clear benefits, it’s very rare in North Carolina for charter schools to be intentional about seeking out an integrated population of students.  In fact, until 2015, state law didn’t allow charters to use socioeconomic status in their admission lotteries. Even now that they have permission to do so, only three charter schools in the state actively use SES for their lottery: Charlotte Lab School, Community School of Davidson, and Central Park School in Durham.

I don’t believe that charter schools are inherently bad, and I recognize the fact that there are charter schools doing good work in North Carolina–even some that serve low income students and do so well.  However, on a systems level, the effectiveness of our charter schools depends on the policies that govern them. If our state legislators are really serious about providing families with good choices, they must enact policies that move us in the direction of racial and economic integration.  Until that happens, let’s stop pretending that ‘choice’ benefits all students equally.

Red4EdNC issues Declaration in Defense of North Carolina’s Public Schoolchildren

 

Today Red4EdNC issues its Declaration in Defense of North Carolina’s Public Schoolchildren.  This is our first step toward the formation of a Teacher Congress which will be comprised of educators from all across the state and will work towards education policy reforms that benefit students in North Carolina.

North Carolina educators who would like to make history and virtually sign the Declaration may do so by clicking here.  Please share this opportunity with other NC teachers who are ready for substantial change.

Declaration in Defense of North Carolina’s Public Schoolchildren
July 4th, 2018
Drafted by Teachers on the Red4EdNC Advisory Board and Board of Directors

 

When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for the people of a state to confront a legislative supermajority that has consistently demonstrated over the course of seven years a hostility to the premise, the constitutional promise, and the provision of a high-quality public education for all, a decent respect to the citizens of that state requires a comprehensive list of the injustices that supermajority has inflicted upon its children and its teacher corps, as well as coherent vision for restoring that state to its former prominence as a leader in public education. We take as our standard, North Carolina’s proud motto: “Esse quam videri — To be rather than to seem.”

We hold that the following truth is evident, moral, and pragmatic — that North Carolina students are guaranteed a sound basic education by the North Carolina Constitution, in Article IX, which states: “Religion, morality, and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools, libraries, and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.” We further hold that the citizens of North Carolina have an economic stake to see that the children of the state are well-educated lest we fail to develop a workforce capable of sufficiently providing for themselves and fail to create new generations of citizens who can contribute to and advance our state, nation, and world.

North Carolina has a long history of vigorous, bipartisan support for public education. However, beginning in the spring of 2011, the leadership of the majority party, especially in the upper chamber, departed from this tradition and moved to underfund and stigmatize K-12 public education, crippling these long-cherished institutions while simultaneously bolstering unproven, experimental and frequently profit-driven replacements, many of which have had the effect of resegregating North Carolina’s children.  

We have attended town halls, and we have addressed members of the General Assembly in their offices in Raleigh and in their home districts. We have marched in the streets by the tens of thousands. We have provided comprehensive and empirically irrefutable data to representatives and senators which demonstrate not only the willful underfunding of our schools but the resulting devastating impacts on our state’s classrooms.  Despite those actions, state lawmakers continue to enact policies which harm our teachers and students.

We hold that the following facts are incontrovertible when it comes to the actions taken and policies adopted by the General Assembly since 2011:

  • They have taken significant steps to de-professionalize the teaching profession in North Carolina, including the revocation of career status, the termination of compensation for advanced degrees, and elimination of retiree health care benefits beginning with teachers hired in 2021.
  • They have cut over 7,400 teacher assistants relative to 2008 levels,  resulting in less supportive and responsive classroom environments, especially given the K-3 testing burden.
  • They have increased the volume of standardized testing–especially among our elementary students where least developmentally appropriate–and fostered a culture of fear and anxiety related to assessments that adversely impacts students and teachers alike.
  • They have enacted a “school report card” system where measures correlate more to wealth and poverty than to instructional quality.
  • They have financed the creation of an evaluation regimen based on secret algorithms (Education Value-Added Assessment System) that precludes equitable and informed treatment for both teachers and students.
  • They have directed millions of dollars to unaccountable charter schools, many of them with dismal records of academic performance but clear records of profit-seeking. This action has resulted in the resegregation of North Carolina’s children on the basis of race and class.
  • They have lifted the cap on charter schools and allowed municipalities to finance them with local property taxes, actions which have resulted in and will continue to worsen racial and economic segregation in our state.
  • They have slashed textbook funding to the point where many of our students are forced to do without.
  • They have consistently placed major education policy initiatives in budget bills rather than moving them through a deliberative committee process, eliminating the debate and public input so essential to the creation of effective policy.
  • They have eliminated the Teaching Fellows program, a teacher development program with an excellent track record of creating high-quality teachers at a relatively low cost, and replaced it with an emaciated version.
  • They have drastically cut corporate tax rates, crippling the General Assembly’s capacity to adequately fund the traditional classroom —  $3.5 billion has been lost in annual revenue and that figure will increase to $4.4 billion beginning in 2019–despite business leaders’ stated desire for increased funding for public schools.
  • They have consistently enacted salary schedules which leave North Carolina far behind the national average in teacher compensation.  Salaries of veteran teachers have stagnated to the point where many of our most experienced teachers have left the profession before full and duly earned retirement pension and health benefits may be collected, resulting in a ‘greening’ of our teaching corps which adversely impacts students.
  • They have created salary schedules in North Carolina that compensate principals at a level worse than the other 49 states as of the spring of 2018.
  • They have provided 3.5% fewer teachers per student than in 2008, increasing class sizes to a degree that teachers struggle to provide students with an orderly environment for learning, and individualized instruction.
  • They have created policies that, in their totality, have increased achievement gaps for low-income students and students of color dramatically since 2008.

In direct contrast to these harmful actions, the NC Teacher Congress offers the following restorative vision:

  • An increase in per-pupil funding, adjusted for inflation, to pre-recession levels.
  • Salary restoration, adjusted for inflation, to 2008 levels, and a move toward compensation which encourages our most experienced teachers to stay in the profession.
  • Cessation of tax practices which favor individuals over the collective good.
  • Elected representatives must  return to a focus on removing poverty-related barriers to student success. We must adopt policies which promote racial and economic integration rather than policies which have the effect of segregating along racial and economic lines.
  • All North Carolina children deserve the opportunity to learn from great teachers in clean, adequately-supplied classrooms. They all deserve to enter each school day healthy, free of hunger, and focused on learning, as a result of a supportive home life, or because adequate supports are in place to address afflictive childhood experiences and trauma.  
  • Assessment regimens should be developmentally appropriate, informed by best practices in terms of span and focus, and should authentically assess mastery. Assessment should inform future instruction rather than determine bonus pay for teachers and principals.
  • Major education policies should be crafted and debated openly in committee settings and on the floor of representative legislative bodies.
  • Policymakers must develop processes that allow consistent input from educators, agency personnel, and subject experts.

We, therefore, the assembled teachers of North Carolina’s public schools, representing almost all 115 Local Education Agencies in North Carolina’s 100 counties, appeal to the voters and the lawmakers of North Carolina to reverse the harmful course outlined above and restore our state to its former position as a national leader in public education.

To accomplish this end, we hereby call for a representative body of North Carolina Teachers to form with all deliberate speed.  Once assembled, this North Carolina Teacher Congress will determine a course of action that will return us to the conditions to which we are accustomed – those that, when it comes to educational opportunity in our state, embrace the state motto: “Esse quam videri: To be rather than to seem.”

We are mutually pledged to each other, to the citizens of North Carolina, and most importantly, to the children in our classrooms and the future of our state.

Rejected school bond is a prime example of NC Senator Berger’s self-serving priorities

*note:  a version of this article first appeared in the Raleigh News & Observer

When the General Assembly’s short session began last month, proponents of public education were eagerly waiting for lawmakers to take up a proposed $1.9 billion school bond for inclusion on November’s general election ballot.  The bond was the result of a broad grassroots effort which mobilized after the NC Department of Public Instruction’s 2015-16 Statewide Facility Needs Survey identified $8.1 billion in capital needs.  It also followed the subsequent passage of a class size mandate which will soon require many additional classrooms across the state but provides no funding for those classrooms.

State legislators openly acknowledge the desperate condition of North Carolina’s schools.  As Representative Craig Horn told me, “We have many school buildings that simply cannot support or even allow for modern teaching techniques or the application of much-needed technology.  They are cramped, in need of basic repairs to walls, roofs and floors. Sanitation and even infestation is a constant challenge. These conditions severely impact both student and teacher.”

Despite rank and file support in both parties and in both chambers, the Public School Building Bond Act of 2017 was rejected by a powerful Senate gatekeeper with a corner office on Jones Street.  Phil Berger’s move to block the public from determining whether it’s in our children’s best interest to relieve overcrowding and renovate crumbling schoolhouses is just the latest example of our state distancing itself from its constitutional duty to ‘guard and maintain’ public education and requiring counties to carry more of the burden for funding it.  

Though the school bond has been derailed, a constitutional amendment to cap NC income tax at 5.5% which is supported by the Koch Brothers’ advocacy group looks likely to added to the November ballot.  If the measure passes, any efforts to increase school funding in the future will rely chiefly on sales tax increases, which disproportionately impact low-income taxpayers.

Other constitutional amendments proposed by GOP lawmakers appear to be a bald-faced attempt to drive conservative voters to the polls and stave off a looming threat to the Republican supermajority due in part to the absolute clown show in the Oval Office.  (Berger himself faces a challenge by former 3rd grade teacher and current UNC-Greensboro professor Jen Mangrum, whose most recent internal poll found that 49% of voters in Senate District 30 thought it was time to elect someone new, vs. 37% who felt Berger should be re-elected.)

One measure would require photo ID of NC voters, despite last year’s State Board of Elections finding that only one out of nearly five million votes cast in the 2016 general election would have been prevented by such a law.  Another would “forever preserve” the rights of North Carolina residents to hunt and fish, but actually would change nothing in the law.  On the other hand, public education propositions bring Democratic voters to the polls, and that’s very likely one reason the bond was ultimately denied.

North Carolina residents deserve to be represented by those who put the needs of our children ahead of their own accumulation of wealth and power.  This month, a poll by the conservative Civitas Institute found that nearly three quarters of North Carolinians feel that public schools do not receive sufficient funding from the state.  The rejected school bond is a missed opportunity for lawmakers to serve those constituents by simply allowing them to decide whether their own tax dollars should be used to provide the facilities needed for a twenty first century education.  These appalling priorities must galvanize voters to elect officials who are pro-public education in November.


The images below document some of the conditions facing North Carolina school children in their buildings.

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Roach-infested water fountain, Eastern North Carolina school

 

 

Overcrowded, 600 square foot 11th and 12th grade classroom in New Hanover County.  35 students squeeze into it.

 

 

Humidity so high in this Guilford County trailer that mushrooms grow inside

 

 

Door to music room in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County school, work in progress during the school year

 

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Termite-infested library books, Mecklenburg County elementary media center

 

 

Extreme classroom temperatures make for terrible learning conditions.  Durham, January 2 at left, Alamance-Burlington, May 3 at right