Public Education

Just Ask Any Teacher

I want to help our dedicated teachers and public servants to prepare our children for that future, by enabling those teachers and providing them with the technology and material support to permit them to create an individualized learning environment for each child that prepares them to become life-long learners.

Our schools must first be safe. So, I support banning assault rifles and taking other steps to ensure that children’s lives are placed ahead of the interests of the gun lobby. I am determined to protecting and strengthen our public schools. They must again be our top legislative and funding priority. I support teachers and support staff (i.e., allowing collective bargaining). And, believe it is time to get serious about allowing local control.

History
At one time, North Carolina was second to none in its commitment to public education. From visionaries such as Appalachian State University founders Blanford B. Dougherty and his brother Dauphin D. Dougherty, to former Democratic governors Jim Hunt and Terry Sanford, our state’s best leaders have always worked to ensure that North Carolina’s children received their constitutionally-guaranteed public education.

Indeed, Appalachian State University (ASU) is an example of our state’s commitment to public education. The brothers Dougherty founded what we now know as ASU as a teacher’s college in 1899. Over time, it grew and in 1971 became part of the University of North Carolina system. The reason the Dougherty brothers founded the college was because they believed that the children living in the rural mountain counties of the High County deserved to have well-trained teachers who had lived among them. It was that spirit that existed across the Tar Heel State which led similarly-minded individuals to organize what eventually became the North Carolina’s graded public schools in the mid-19th Century.

This 150-year sacred commitment to our state’s children has been undermined by just a few years of Republican control in Raleigh. Our teachers, our students, and our state deserve better.

The Facts
Teachers are underpaid. As Kris Nordstrom reports in this article for NC Policy Watch, “Politicians from both sides of the political spectrum understand that teachers are the most important classroom factor when it comes to improving student performance. Unfortunately, their policies over the past decade have failed to reflect this understanding. North Carolina’s average teacher pay ranking has fallen from 22nd in FY 03-04 to 41st in FY 15-16, and enrollment in teacher preparation programs is plummeting.”

Nordstrom notes, “To truly determine the salary required to attract and retain talented candidates to the teaching field, the important measurement is how compensation compares in relation to alternative careers with similar educational requirements. That is, the salaries of North Carolina teachers are best compared against the salaries of other professionals in North Carolina with a bachelor’s degree or higher. This metric avoids the weaknesses of traditional state rankings and is more aligned with the data a talented university student considers when deciding which profession to pursue.”

Nordstrom concludes, “We need to change the dialogue on teacher pay. Policymakers should stop focusing on North Carolina’s ranking compared to other states and instead focus on making teacher salaries competitive with the salaries offered by other similarly-educated professions in North Carolina. Based on this measure, North Carolina’s teacher salaries are even more inadequate than previously thought. While creating a competitive teacher salary schedule would require significant investment, the required revenue could be realized by repealing recent years’ tax cuts that have largely benefited the wealthy and powerful. Policymakers should also feel urgency to act, as the teacher wage penalty has been increasing over time, and the benefits of a higher-achieving teacher force will benefit all students, particularly disadvantaged students who are less likely to be taught by the most experienced and effective teachers.”

I agree. It’s time to treat educators like the professionals that they are.

In addition to underpaying teachers, there are now 7,000 fewer teacher assistants in the North Carolina public schools, even while our population grows rapidly.

North Carolina consistently ranks near the bottom (presently 44th) in the nation in per-pupil spending.

Standardized testing is out of control. Teachers are beholden to legislators who have absolutely no experience in education and have hence created classroom environments where administrators, teachers and students are more concerned about teaching to a test than teaching critical thinking.

Meanwhile, Charter Schools divert funds intended for the public schools to entities not nearly as accountable as local school boards. They are often run by for-profit organizations that look at children as a commodity, not a student. So, money that should be reinvested in the public schools instead go into the pockets of the Charter School investors. In short, Charter Schools are essentially private schools funded with public dollars.

Conclusion
It is time we return to the Real North Carolina value of vigorously supporting our public schools.
It is time to develop a teacher pay structure consistent with that outlined by NC Policy Watch.
It is time to provide teachers with the assistants they need to serve our children.
It is time to move North Carolina to the top of the nation in terms of per-pupil funding.
It is time to establish a teacher-recruitment program in partnership with our university system. The example set by ASU founders B.B. and D.D. Dougherty is one we should continue to emulate today.

It is time to recognize that the state of North Carolina can – and must – treat our teachers and other educational professionals with more respect. Anything short of that threatens the quality of education received by our state’s children.

That’s simply unacceptable. Don’t take my word for it though. Just ask any teacher.