Op Ed: Telling It Like It Is in NC-Studying Our Options in NC-Opting Out, Teacher Tenure

Written by Charlie Morris (aka not Zoe)
I have been seriously inactive lately for Blue Hat stuff. Pamela Grundy, the co author of a recent and courageously written N&O article about Opting Out,  has been in touch with Zoe and I.  I have been ducking calling her even though I support the cause.  First of all, I am a single dad and hey…my plate is FULL.  But there are other reasons. Here they are…
I must admit that I am currently suffering from not a lack of courage, but a lack of belief that the current system can just be buffered up and made good once again.  My attempts to get Zoe’s 0 status removed at the state level, from her opting out of testing last year has gone no where-literally.  No help from the Principal.  The letter I wrote to the state level rep, who is in charge of such things, went completely ignored.  I also offered my piece on the topic to the N&O, the local newspaper in Raleigh.  They didn’t mention it or cover it in the paper, even after the reporter had asked to see it.  I still admittedly feel disappointed that last year Zoe was literally the only kid in the district to opt out.  We live in a pocket of NC that is supposedly exceedingly liberal and free minded.  Yet, not one other person stepped forward?  So…where am I at? Frazzled.  Disappointed for sure in the elected leaders of NC for what they are supporting for our children.   Enjoying the relative virtues of being marginilized by this bizarre system that was formerly about education. In other words, I have been fairly quiet.
I have been feign to do much lately because I am unsure of how to proceed best.  I truly feel that the corporations are not one, but two or three steps ahead of us in their quest to standardize all “learning”.  Why? Please see “standardized packaging”.  It makes it easier to deliver a product.  And that is what is being sold now.  Education is being sold like a product instead of a process or dare I say it…a fascinating journey. So, even as we fight what is here currently to wrestle with, they are already on to the next thing…rendering the current battle sort of as a distraction or an obfuscation to what they already have planned.  I feel that as long as we do not self organize, we will always be requesting fairness from those who seek to take advantage of our collective trust that they have our best interests at heart…and they apply a system that is only fair to a certain segment of the population.  I feel that the writing is on the wall here if we look around the country.  The friendly requests for fairness simply do not work.  What works is mass refusal and taking education (not) back…but taking it somewhere new altogether.
So, I hate to sound negative.  But currently I am picking my fights a bit better and staying out of losing ones.  I am sitting still and looking for the right kind of opening to present itself.   I think the fight to get schools back to a good place cannot be won. Fighting the gov’t cannot be won.  But organizing children completely differently and into smaller groups of decentralized learning groups…to me that feels possible and more positive.  We shouldn’t fight to make the gov’t agree with us about how to educate our children.  They never had the right to do so from the start.  In a way, arguing with them, lends credence to their power.  When you find yourself asking for your rights back…it means that you are talking to someone who took them without your permission.  I say we need to change the conversation completely.  Don’t talk to them at all.  We simply should educate our children.  And for the parents that cannot because they are working (like me), we can hopefully find a way to have things in place that support them as well.  I don’t think that we can ever get the gov’t out of the current educational system.  They created it. It is their system and we merely partake of it.   It will never be ours.  If we want education that is ours for our children, we must make our own, pulling together resources that make sense to us.  The government has no role in the education of most of the wealthiest families in America.  That isn’t an opinion.  It is the truth.  The government does not tell private schooled children how to learn or what test to take.  Many have never considered that.  We debate the merits of common core, assuming it is something that all children must struggle through.  It isn’t. The wealthiest do not.  All the things that we public school parents struggle with (testing, learning by rote, more testing, et al) is something that private schools do not have to contend with.  It is only us…the working folks who cannot afford such schools who are subject to government style education.  And I want to be clear that I am not saying teachers in public schools are the “government”.  I feel the worst for them.  I have never met a teacher who wanted what we have now in public schools.  I am also not setting up a class divide argument or an us or a them.  What I am saying is that if Common Core was such a valuable tool, such a wonderful democratized method of education…don’t you think that the well funded private schools all across America would be using it?  Guess what?  They aren’t.  Case closed.
A comment I get a lot from concerned parents and even teachers is a retort to when I mention corporate and for profit interests.  Many people simply do not grasp the connection between Pearson Publishing and many other influences.  If you had to sum up what is happening in our schools in two words…here they are “profit motive”.  So let  me be clear, and just sound terribly off base when I say that you will not truly understand what is happening to public schools until you do your research and grasp that government sponsored education is now in the hands of business and for profit interests.  The best way to fight it is to not fight them at all.  But to create a system that does not include them.
Just as the wealthier among us do not have to fight the government or for profit interests when it comes to a quality education for their children…we deserve the same.  There has to be a better way to go about this.  And for this many children, I honestly don’t know how this will work.  Homeschooling and Unschooling can achieve this end, but only for a relative few.  But as a people we can’t leave behind children with parents who both work full time and cannot be at home with their children.
I hope that we see a new way to teach and learn in a more collaborative fashion.  Free from control by CEO’s.  I don’t want my daughter’s name on any sheet that indicates Profit/Loss statements and her school’s name on the top.  We all deserve education that is filled with the input of students, teachers and involved parents, not a corporation, not a politician.
Until then we can take steps.  We can refuse-flat out-to take tests.  We can refuse to allow Common Core in our schools.  And to draw a line in the sand…if you are not opting out…you are responsible for supporting the system that you wish did not exist.  If you want something to change, you have to do something first.  So, opt out at the end of this schoolyear.  Make it so my daughter isn’t the only one who is brave enough to do so here in our little town.
Check out what is happening in Guilford County, NC where they are suing the state over the abolishment of teacher tenure….and make it happen in your county too (if you are in NC).
If you agree…share this article.

June 30, 2014: The Day NC Lost The Fight for Education

I want you to imagine that you are a teacher in an NC public school.  Let’s fill this fantasy with ideals.  Ideally you have a satisfying job, teaching the future leaders of America and citizens of the world.  The pay isn’t exactly stellar…but you get to teach children who are counting on you.  You are seen as leaders in our community.  You are respected and admired.  You watch the children grow and learn while the parents are working to support them.  You teach every skill that they will presumably need to provide for future families, for themselves and for the future of society at large.  No one said it would be easy.  But hopefully your school is a place that has not forgotten the value of education, of childhood and of the joy of learning.  

Now for reality…

You manage your long hours and Common Core assessments and the curriculum being railroaded into valuable actual learning time.  IFL trainers pull you out of teaching time to show you how to administer the new Performance Based Assessments related to the Common Core.  Parents are angry and confused at how much testing YOU are doing to THEIR children…even though you are just doing your job to the best of your ability.  You have not had a pay raise in 5 years.  Testing, testing, testing is raining down on your head as you are increasingly encouraged, through new teacher evaluation standards, to make sure you do not stray from the subject matter that someone else located very far away requires you to teach.  

And now…tenure and pay for advanced degrees is stripped out.  

Imagine that you are an NC teacher under these conditions.  And then the legislators of NC bring this to your doors-    

For Teachers who are currently employed but with a rating deemed non proficient…

You will be offered a one year contract.

For Teachers with LESS than 3 years experience teaching in NC who are deemed proficient…

If you are brand new to teaching here in NC, are an experienced teacher from another state, or are rated as a highly proficient teacher but with less than 3 years teaching experience…we can offer you a one year contract.  

For Teachers with MORE than 3 years consecutive teaching experience in the state of NC and are rated as proficient…

  • Keep and maintain tenure until 2018…and then you will be offered a one year contract.
  • Tenure eliminated…and you will be offered a one year contract.

Special Offer: For only 25% of the state of NC’s proficiently rated teachers, who have tenure…

You must give up tenure but will receive a 4 year contract AND an annual “merit pay” of $500 per year for each of those 4 years.

Now pretend that you are NOT a teacher in the state of NC.  With the policy named above, why would you want to be one?  What is your incentive when you are going to be treated so poorly?

If you are a parent in the state of NC, does a policy like this seem to you to be about education?  Do you feel like this kind of thing engenders a love of learning?  Without dedicated and supported teachers, conversations and arguments about the new Common Core are immaterial.  There won’t be anyone who feels good about teaching left to teach.

Now tell me, how much do you believe that your legislators care about education again?  A question I wonder about is if the people that dreamed this stuff up have children or grandchildren in any public schools?

Something that all of us public school parents forget is that all these policy issues we struggle with: testing, tenure, Common Core-private schools do not have these issues.  As we debate the merits of more testing and more assessments, privately educated kids are doing just fine, going to college, learning what they need to know.  They do not have Common Core.  So we are here struggling with this giant monster and people are telling us it is going to save education.  Ahem..excuse me…but if it is so critical to education, why isn’t everyone reaching for a piece?  I am bringing up Common Core here only lightly, but there is an undeniable connection with the hidden agenda of Common Core and the undermining of public education.  What we are seeing here, this is what Common Core drivers at the highest levels are encouraging.  A demoralization of public trust in public schools for a tricky move into non-public and corporate-run “education” facilities that will be for profit.  Our children are being educated less and less by teachers…and more and more by a mandated teaching tour de force that includes a policy that undermines the art of teaching and introduces a curriculum that replaces actual learning.  This policy, and many others like it, pave the way for legislators to be able to claim that teachers are not as valuable as we would like them to be and also that teaching as a profession is not actually as specialized or important as it actually is.  Eventually what we will see is the idea that a Common Core approach can be taught by anyone who wishes to teach, and it will be easy to teach from a script after all…so who needs to pay high wages to a teacher with tenure after all?

In other words, this policy shift, is not them laying down their cards on the table.  This is just the shuffle.  It is only the beginning of a long and arduous game where the deck is stacked.  My point in writing this down is in hopes of reminding parents and students that this is our future that they are playing cards with.  It isn’t what any of you chose.  I invite anyone who was given a choice about what would happen to your school’s teachers or curriculum to write to me.  The lack of transparency in such wide sweeping changes is, quite simply, wholly unethical and unprofessional…and those are the only two friendly adjectives I can conjure up at the moment.

Do you really believe that Common Core and deeper learning is a priority for the people making these decisions?  What kind of incentive is there for teachers to share, collaborate and encourage other teachers to be better if they are, by policy, in competition with their fellow teachers for one of the 25% sweet spots?  This is the point in NC when Free Market thinking meets respecting great teachers who work exceedingly hard at what they do.

I could go on and on but the point is that these policies are real.  They were decided upon last summer, in 2013.  The deadline for who will be in the 25% and who will not is June 30 of 2014.  That means that every teacher you know is currently struggling with these questions.  Which group will they fall into?  Will parents object to having their child taught by a “non proficient” teacher?  How can trust and collaboration continue when there are so many teachers barely clearing poverty level wages as they support their families?

Right now there is not even a system in place, at least where I live, to specifically decide how to choose whom.  Those guidelines were not in the ruling.  This whole thing just showed up.  I don’t tend to judge people.  But I am betting that Gov. McCrory and his decision making team do not have any relatives that are teachers in this state.  And if they do, I’d love to interview them.

As I read on a blog recently….when was the last time our elected politicians (like McCrory) volunteered for a 5 year pay freeze and deduction in pay?  When was the last time they taught in a classroom that couldn’t afford paper, or books or laptops?  And on top of those kinds of things…now this?

So, I sit here and watch schools decline.  And I wonder what it will take for people to realize and grasp that education is literally under siege in our state.  Teachers are being fractured and marginalized and underpaid.  If you care about your child’s future, you must say enough is enough and organize your local school district to refuse to go along with this mandate.  Protecting teachers IS equivalent to protecting education.  

Teachers care about teaching.  Do you care about teachers? Our legislators either don’t care or don’t know how to care properly.  So it is up to the citizens and parents and students to step up and do something before our best teachers leave to teach somewhere else.

Organize parents, students and legislators and let them know at your district level that this is unacceptable.  It is YOUR school.  These are YOUR children’s teachers.  Keep great teachers here!  This is only one aspect of improving education in NC, but it is the most important.  Without teachers to teach, the rest is meaningless.

Talk to your teachers about this.  Talk to your friends.  Share this posting.  Start a group.  Tell your PTA.  Talk to the Superintendent.  Tell everyone to refuse to allow this to happen.  And just in case you don’t know…teachers in this state cannot unionize.  They are not allowed to actively speak up about this in groups or large numbers without fear of being fired.  It is up to us.