Citizen Green: Education strategy: Demoralize, divide and conquer

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Jordan Greenby Jordan Green

The educational plan included in the budget approved by the state Senate over the weekend is a classic wedge designed to demoralize, divide and conquer teachers.

Confronted with outrage from voters in both parties over pay that has fallen to near the bottom of national rankings, the Berger budget offers teachers an 11 percent raise on condition that they give up tenure, called “career status” — essentially due process and protection against at-will firing.

Teaching is among the most honored professions. These are the people who are charged with educating our children, after all. They are responsible for not only every individual child in the public school system, but educating all children to ensure that our future citizens of North Carolina hold the skills needed to maintain employment jobs and contribute to the overall well being of society.

Most municipal police departments provide due process to sworn officers who are empowered with firearms and badges to provide for the public safety. It’s of paramount importance that they do their jobs conscientiously and with a sense of ethics. We want them to have due process so that they can speak out against arbitrary and capricious administration without fear of retaliatory firing. It should be no different for teachers.

If this plan is enacted, some teachers will undoubtedly sacrifice their job security to obtain raises to bring their pay somewhere near a livable wage. And sadly, as a consequence we’ll see two tiers emerge in the teaching profession. Call it a bribe or a buyout; it amounts to an accommodation to a group of employees that over all weakens the corps.

If dismantling public education is not the plan, then at the very least Republican lawmakers should understand how policies like this contribute to that perception.

The proposed raise comes across as manipulative. Others have used much harsher language. It appears designed to buy off opposition by teachers desperate for a raise while forcing them to swallow other bitter pills.

Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, the state’s fourth largest district, would suffer $10 million in funding cuts from the budget, according to the district. The biggest impact would be on teaching assistants, but full-fledged teachers, central office staff and transportation employees would also be affected.

Whether hatred of the Common Core State Standards factors in the proposal or not, the irony cannot be lost that at a time when the district is having to enroll thousands of third graders in a summer reading camp to allow them to meet the more stringent standards, this budget undercuts the very people who are in a position to help.

“We share the Senate’s desire to increase teacher salaries, but these budget cuts — especially at the primary level, where reading achievement is a priority — would be devastating,” Superintendent Beverly Emory said. “At a time when third graders cannot be promoted to fourth grade unless they are reading at grade level, we need to find a way to both pay our teachers more and support reading instruction in the early grades.”

My mother taught both elementary and adult education in Kentucky. I myself am not cut out for the job — few people are. But I have volunteered as a teacher aide at the Newcomer’s School in Greensboro, where immigrant children with limited English ability spend their first couple years in Guilford County Schools. Even if students are lucky enough to be in a classroom with a low student-to-teacher ratio, teachers perform an incredible juggling act of holding the attention of a group of youngsters while engaging both the advanced and slower learners. The individualized attention that teacher’s assistants provide can make all the difference in keeping a student struggling with the material from falling behind.

I don’t know how Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger Sr. feels about charter schools, but his son, Phil Berger Jr. — a district attorney and GOP frontrunner for the 6th Congressional District seat — is an avid supporter, and sits on the board of directors of Providence Charter High School in Rockingham County. Charter schools have their place: Some children need an alternative educational setting to thrive. But they’re not the answer for every child, and certainly not a solution to the overall challenge of educating the next generation of citizens.

It’s fine to provide additional choice through charter schools. But if the state Senate is intent on weakening the system of public education then we should ask whether they intend to transform a public education system that has been painstaking built over the past 146 years into a two-tiered system with the equivalent of gated communities for the wealthy and housing projects for the poor.

Hyperbole?

Vigilance is not unreasonable if you believe our teachers should be a source of state pride and that the education of all children is the responsibility of everyone.