One of the more entertaining events of this week was the scramble by Republican legislative leaders and Governor Pat McCrory to take credit for the news that the state’s high school graduation rate increased to 82 percent, an all-time high.
It’s understandable that they are desperate to draw attention away from the woefully inadequate education budget they passed a few weeks ago, the thousands of teacher assistants they fired, the supplemental pay they are ending for teachers with master’s degrees, and the deep cuts to instructional support that teachers need in the classroom.
But claiming credit for the new graduation numbers is simply absurd. Improving the graduation rate doesn’t happen in a year or two, it happens over time with long term investments in our schools and students and teachers, early childhood programs like SmartStart and NC PreK, professional development for teachers and principals, scholarships to attract bright students into the teaching profession, and yes raising teacher pay.
In other words, all the things McCrory and the General Assembly decided not to fund in their budget this year. Instead they reduced the number of slots available for NC PreK, abolished the nationally recognized Teaching Fellows program, slashed funding for teacher development and ignored pleas for teacher salary increases even as the state’s ranking for teacher pay falls to among the worst in the country.
Governor McCrory issued a statement about the graduation numbers, praising the “work and talent of our classroom teachers and school principals,” and saying that the results are evidence that “if we reduce the mandatory testing burden, as we have suggested, and allow our teachers to teach, their creative and innovative spirit will take our students to a higher level of academic achievement.”
Those would be the hard working teachers that were slapped in the face in the budget McCrory recently signed, with no raise and an end to due process protections when they are fired, and no more supplemental pay for teachers who earn their master’s. McCrory also rewarded the teachers for their work and talent with larger classes, no more teacher assistants in the second and third grades, and cuts to their budgets for textbooks and supplies.
It’s also interesting that not too many months ago, then gubernatorial candidate McCrory was travelling around the state claiming that public schools were broken in North Carolina and needed a major overhaul.
Now after a few months in office, McCrory is praising teachers and principals for achievements they made last year, at the very time when he was shouting from the soapbox that the schools were broken.
McCrory’s campaign website still says he opposes spending more money on a “broken system,” you know the one that is graduating a higher percentage of students than ever.
It’s also worth noting that McCrory and other Republican leaders keeping saying that we don’t need to keep throwing money at education (even as the state falls to almost dead least in per-pupil expenditure rankings) yet they are trying as hard as they can to mislead voters into thinking they increased spending for public schools this year.
They didn’t. They slashed funding, cutting more than $100 million from what Art Pope’s budget office said was needed to keep schools operating at least year’s levels, and spending $500 million less than 2007-2008 when you adjust for inflation.
Don’t be fooled by all the right’s use of the new graduation numbers.
Remember two things.
McCrory and his buddies running the General Assembly just passed a budget that makes it harder for teachers and schools to help kids learn.
And Republican education policies not only had nothing to do with the increase in graduation rates, their budget slashing and dismantling of public education makes it very unlikely the improvement in our schools will continue for very long.