Driving in reverse down the education highway

It seems to me if there’s one thing we can really learn for sure from other nations with superior school systems it’s this: get the best and brightest teachers by valuing them highly, treating them as professionals, and compensating accordingly.  Testing or no testing– you get the best teachers and everything else should reasonably well fall into place.   How to get consistently mediocre teachers?  Scare away bright, ambitious young people by continually dis-respecting those who do the job, both through words and through inadequate compensation.

Now, there are many truly fabulous teachers here in NC (and I’m lucky to count several as friends), but there is no doubt that on average if you want to improve the quality of teachers you need to value and reward those who go into the profession.  Far too many good teachers leave because they simply cannot afford to be so under-compensated and far too many people never seriously consider the field due to the institutionalized dis-respect.

Thus, the idea that somehow we will improve education in NC as our teacher salaries sink ever lower (in a relative sense) is truly ludicrous.  Now, I’m actually for a gradual reform where you eliminate Master’s degree raises (the evidence is clear– no correlation between higher degrees and quality teaching), but only if those funds are re-distributed to better compensate all teachers.

My biggest fear about the craziness from the legislature this year is that NC will have a genuine brain drain.  Many of the best and brightest will never come here and many others will leave.  Among those who stay, our education system will surely only stagnate as we lose too many good teachers (both actual and potential) over the low salaries and lack of professional respect.

Anyway, the NCAE has a nice summary of the changes:

1. Eliminates 9,306.5 education positions — 5,184.5 teachers, 3,850 teacher assistants, and 272 Support Personnel (guidance counselors, psychologist, etc.).

2. Provides NO pay increases for educators, continuing North Carolina’s race to the bottom of national salaries. In 2007-08 North Carolina was ranked 25th in the nation in teacher pay, last year our state was 46th. With no additional pay, next year North Carolina undoubtedly will be at the bottom…

6. Grades Schools (A-F), 80% based on standardized test scores, 20% based on growth. No other variables will be considered in this grading.

7. Eliminates the Teaching Fellows Program, once viewed as a national model for recruiting teachers into the classroom, the program is no longer funded.

8. Reduces targeted education funding: • Cuts Textbook funding by $77.4 million dollars; • Cuts Classroom supply funding by $45.7 million dollars; • Cuts Limited English Proficiency funding by $6 million dollars.

Oh, yeah, all this while cutting taxes–primarily for the richest residents– by over half a billion over the next two years.

Meanwhile, on the anecdotal side, this letter from a teacher to the legislature is great:

When I moved here and began teaching in 2007, $30,000 was a major drop from the $40,000 starting salaries being offered by districts all around me in metro Detroit, but it was fine for a young single woman sharing a house with roommates and paying off student loans. However, over six years later, $31,000 is wholly insufficient to support my family. So insufficient, in fact, that my children qualify for and use Medicaid as their medical insurance, and since there is simply no way to deduct $600 per month from my meager take-home pay in order to include my husband on my health plan, he has gone uninsured…

I will make no apologies for saying that I am a great teacher. I run an innovative classroom where the subject matter is relevant and the standards are high. My teaching practice has resulted in consistently high evaluations from administrators, positive feedback from parents, and documented growth in students.

I realize that no one in Raleigh will care or feel the impact when this one teacher out of 80,000 leaves the classroom. I understand. However, my 160 students will feel the impact. And 160 the next year. And the next. My Professional Learning Community, teachers around the county with whom I collaborate, will be impacted, and their students as well. Young teachers become great when they are mentored by experienced, effective educators, and all their students are impacted as well. When quality teachers leave the classroom, the loss of mentors is yet another effect. This is how the quiet and exponential decline in education happens.

Higher teacher pay may be unpopular, and I am aware it is difficult to see the connection between teacher pay and a quality education for students, so I will try to make it clear. Paying me a salary on which I can live means I can stay in the classroom, and keeping me in the classroom means thousands of students over the next decade would get a quality education from me. It’s that simple.

And, while she is just 1 teacher out of 80,000, you can be guaranteed that she is far from alone in her situation and that thousands of other good teachers will be making similar decisions.  This is a slow-motion disaster for North Carolina.  Mississippi here we come.

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About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

5 Responses to Driving in reverse down the education highway

  1. Mike from Canada says:

    What are the educational requirements to teach in NC?

    • Steve Greene says:

      Mostly a BA/BS from approved teacher accreditation program (university with ED department). Your degree can be in any subject, but most also include ED curriculum components. Plus, there’s a test which I assume most everybody passes. I don’t think the problem is a low bar at this point, but rather low pay and not viewing teachers as professionals. Though, over time, would definitely make sense to raise the bar (not that I think an MA is necessarily the way to do that).

      • Mike from Canada says:

        Thirty grand a year for a university graduate with a BA/BS? That’s crazy.
        I made more then that as a cook working in a non unionized privately owned restaurant twenty-five years ago.

  2. Mike from Canada says:

    I think part of the problem is it was once largely a woman’s job. Women were supposed to do the job either to hold them over until they got married and pregnant, or “for pin money” once they did get married and their kids got older. Nurses here used to have the same problem, still might in some places. Nursing wasn’t a profession, it was a calling and something to do until a woman got married and started their real job, pushing out babies. Because of this wages were depressed for everyone in nursing. Nurses often have the equivalent education as doctors, sometimes more in highly specialized fields, but are not paid equivalent salaries.

    For some reason even today people who work with children, the elderly or the sick are often paid less and expected to do the job out of a sense of charity and duty, even though the executives, high level jobs that oversee them are paid salaries commensurate with their peers in other industries. When it comes to executives the politicians say they have to pay high salaries to “get the best”. But not the workers.

    • Steve Greene says:

      Excellent insight. It would be really interesting to look at this in a cross-cultural context. I wonder if the teaching profession used to be less gendered in places like Finland and S. Korea.

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