“Watching what has happened to public education in North Carolina is like watching a tragedy unfold, act by act.”
Hard hitting words from historian and public education advocate Diane Ravitch, who addressed hundreds of educators, policy makers and advocates today at the 2014 Emerging Issues Forum in Raleigh.
“Teachers and the Great Economic Debate” was the subject of the forum, bringing together thousands to consider how to train, retain and support world class teachers in every classroom to secure North Carolina’s future competitiveness.
Citing a long list of recent laws that many argue will hurt public education, Ravitch anticipated a brain drain for the state thanks to bad policies, said that charters and vouchers do not save kids from failing public schools but instead pave the way for resegregation, and bemoaned the loss of teacher tenure.
“The loss of career status…is the loss of academic freedom,” said Ravitch, who worried that teachers won’t be able to teach a child about Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man because a school board member doesn’t like it, or teach modern science because of its controversial nature.
Beginning teachers rewarded
Ravitch’s speech and the Emerging Issues Forum’s agenda is especially timely in light of Gov. Pat McCrory’s Monday announcement that he proposes to raise the starting pay of beginning teachers in North Carolina.
McCrory and GOP leaders are pushing for a teacher pay plan that awards beginning teachers who are stuck at the low end of the pay scale a minimum salary of $33,000 in 2014-15 and $35,000 in 2015-16.
For teachers who are at the bottom and currently making $30,800, McCrory’s plan would be close to a 14 percent pay raise for beginning teachers over two years. But it remains to be see if a) the proposal will be passed by lawmakers this May, and b) if it will be a true pay raise, meaning the funds appropriated will recur — or if teachers would revert back to their original salaries after the two year period.
The proposal also leaves behind the vast majority of experienced teachers in the state–approximately two-thirds of the teaching workforce — who haven’t seen their salaries increase during the past six years, save for a tiny increase in 2010 that was offset for most by hikes in health insurance premiums.
After a morning announcement of his teacher pay plan in Guilford County, McCrory pitched his proposal yesterday afternoon to teachers at the Emerging Issues Forum — and received a tepid response.
“Our goal is to help all of North Carolina’s teachers,” concluded McCrory, perhaps foreshadowing a future proposal that lawmakers could act on during the upcoming legislative session which could benefit veteran teachers in addition to new ones.
“This is a first step,” said McCrory of rewarding beginning teachers now.
Many teachers left behind
“I work alongside a teacher who has 25 years of experience,” said Megan Moss, a second-year elementary school math teacher in Washington County who would benefit from McCrory’s proposal. “She is invaluable in terms of the knowledge she passes on to me in the classroom. To think that the state doesn’t value her is just plain hurtful,” said Moss, who came to North Carolina from Georgia to pursue a teaching career.
Kate Leckonby, a Wake County school teacher who took part in a panel session to brainstorm alternative teaching compensation systems at the Emerging Issues Forum, explained how McCrory’s proposal would mean a teacher in her ninth year of teaching, like Leckonby, would be making roughly the same amount of money that a teacher in her first year would earn.
“All teachers would like to see a raise in base pay,” said Leckonby. “I would think most teachers feel positive about new teachers receiving more money…but couldn’t pay raises have been more equitably distributed?”
Of particular concern to Leckonby are the teachers in the middle of the pay scale. “Some of us are just shy of receiving the longevity pay bump,” explained Leckonby, who has been teaching nine years in North Carolina. Public school teachers are given a pay bonus of 1.5 percent for ten years of service to the state.
“But we are also past the point of benefitting from McCrory’s proposal, which rewards teachers in the early years of their careers–so we are stuck,” said Leckonby, who noted that these stuck teachers are often the ones who are just starting families and devoting a significant portion of income to daycare bills and student loan payments.
Sen. Angela Bryant, a panelist at the Emerging Issues Forum, told NC Policy Watch that she doesn’t understand where the research is that justifies supporting only young teachers.
“Why are teachers in years 10 through 30 of their career questionable? Are the early career teachers just cheaper? Is that’s what’s playing into this?” said Bryant, who noted that GOP lawmakers have increased the state’s investment in Teach for America, which brings young, inexperienced teachers into classrooms with the requirement that they stay for two years. Many TFA teachers leave by the five year mark.
Will the teacher exodus worsen?
A panel of former NC teachers at the Emerging Issues Forum told participants what compelled them to leave the classroom or the state.
“It’s sad for us to go, but as a family we have to make that decision,” said Deana Kahlenberg of she and her husband Mark, who plan to leave North Carolina at the end of the school year.
The Kahlenbergs are pursuing graduate degrees and feel that they have invested too much to stay in North Carolina. Last year, lawmakers passed legislation that will stop awarding salary supplements to teachers who obtain master’s degrees.
“I am moving,” said teacher Sharon Boxley. “I am moving to Maryland because I need to be paid my worth,” she said. In Maryland, Boxley expects to earn $15-20 thousand dollars more than what she earns in North Carolina.
Veteran teachers are beginning to think they are not wanted in North Carolina.
Melissa Noel, an AP English teacher in Johnston County with 19 years in the classroom, came to North Carolina five years ago to support her aging in-laws.
“It feels like we’re being encouraged to leave the profession,” said Noel. “Sending money to private schools in the form of school vouchers, reducing public school budgets, telling us our advanced degrees are not appreciated, and now McCrory says experience is not appreciated? I know a lot of my colleagues will leave,” Noel said.
Noel conducted an informal survey of teachers in her department, and more than half are leaving. And she says she’s considering other options, too.
“Most of us are mentors to our younger colleagues. Who will be there?” wondered Noel.
Asked what she would tell frustrated teachers in North Carolina, Ravitch said she would tell them to stay and fight.
“Who’s going to teach the young teachers?”
Education reporter Lindsay Wagner can be reached at 919-861-1460 or firstname.lastname@example.org