Frustrated NC teacher pens open letter to lawmaker

Frustrated NC teacher pens open letter to lawmaker

- in Progressive Voices

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Blasts plan to turn struggling public schools over to charter operators

[Editor’s note: The following is from an open letter sent to State Rep. Rob Bryan yesterday in response to news reports of the lawmaker’s plan to unveil new legislation in the waning days of the 2015 legislative session on the subject of low-performing public schools. It has been edited for length.]  

Rep. Bryan,

After reading a recent report by the McClatchy Regional News printed in the Winston-Salem Journal on August 10th entitled “Plan being crafted for charter takeover of worst schools”, I am saddened that you would consider pawning off our “failing schools” to an entity that has not really produced discernible results when examined carefully.

It is egregious that a leading legislator has to “craft a proposal behind closed doors” by “talking to lawmakers, educators and advocates of his choosing.” Oftentimes when one secretly meets with others of his choosing, then those “others” tend to have likeminded views. Rather than having a public debate about how to best help our “failing” schools with our own proven resources, you choose to surreptitiously strategize and plan a takeover of schools that need your help, not your ignorance.

Think about it. As a two-term representative, you have helped create a system by which poverty-stricken schools are not only labeled as failing (via North Carolina’s adoption of Jeb Bush’s school grading system), but you have fostered an environment that keeps schools under the foot of government by lowering per pupil expenditures and vilifying veteran educators. And now you meet behind closed doors with those who are willing to siphon money to charter schools run by out-of-state private entities?

You were quoted as saying, “I think the question is how long are kids allowed to be in failing schools?” when asked about your reasoning for crafting a charter takeover. Yet, the question you ask is the wrong one. Rather, you should have asked, “How long are we as legislators going to continue creating an environment that keeps schools from being successful?”

Anyone objectively looking at what the North Carolina General Assembly (NCGA) has done in the last three years to public education can easily understand that the biggest obstacle in helping schools achieve actually resides in the Legislative Building on West Jones Street in Raleigh. But when you meet frequently behind closed doors, you do not get that objective point of view. You fall in love with your own ideas because you surround yourself with people whose motives are as single-minded as yours.

Any public servant or elected official like you should be willing to surround yourself with those who may disagree with you. That promotes true debate, careful consideration, and the opportunity to appreciate others’ viewpoints.

But when the McClatchy report recounted that you planned “to substitute your bill for another one introduced in February, circumventing a spring deadline for introducing new legislation,” then that’s not just sneaky; it’s devious.

You claim to have talked with the Tennessee governor and those responsible for that state’s Achievement School District (ASD). Simply do a “Google” search on ASD in Memphis, however, and you see the polarizing results of Tennessee’s experiment with the charter school takeover. Whether the criticisms are all valid or not, the fact that so much animosity exists begs for there to be more open discussion about the use of charter schools to “takeover” failing schools.

In reading an Oct. 29, 2013 article from The Atlantic entitled “When Outsiders Take Over Schools: Lessons From Memphis”, I noticed that those who praise the ASD’s efforts talked about the smaller classes, more one-on-one teaching, and tighter structure. If those are ingredients for success in turning around schools, then why are you advocating policies that remove class size caps, lower per pupil expenditures, and abolish teaching assistants in the very schools you hope will be taken over?

Other accolades given by parents to the ASD vouched for the dedication of the staff and teachers. Oddly enough, in North Carolina you and other GOP members have abolished due-process rights for new teachers, removed graduate degree pay, and targeted other ways to keep teachers from retiring in the profession in our state. If claiming that failing schools are the result of undedicated teachers, then you may need to consider the fact that current veteran teachers not only withstand government scorn, but work in worsening conditions, and still go out of their way to help all kids. That is the real definition of dedication. And you want to replace these dedicated professionals with unproven and often non-certified replacements?

Yet, what really disturbs me is that you represent an area whose public school district probably suffers from one of the worst teacher shortages in the Southeast – Charlotte/Mecklenburg. So many teachers left the CMS system this past year (some estimate that it was over 1,000), that the school system participated in over 50 job fairs according to a May 25th WBTV report. As of last week, over 300 teaching positions were still posted.

Just travel down I-77 to York County, SC and you may see where many of the former CMS teachers are surely making a better salary with more support and without the fear of a corporate, I mean, charter takeover. Even the NC Teacher of the Year chose an advocacy job over returning to your district. That is a direct statement on the eroding conditions that you have helped create in your own backyard.

Last February, I wrote an op-ed concerning the state’s grading system of schools and I closed with an observation that seems even truer now than it did six months ago. Schools provide a great reflection of a society and how it prioritizes education. When our schools are told that they are failing, those with the power to effect change are really the ones who deserve the failing grades.

Stuart Egan, NBCT, is a public school teacher at West Forsyth High School in Clemmons.