special to the Clarion Content: “Liza” shares with us a harrowing, inspiring, insider’s perspective…a North Carolina teacher.
Special to the Clarion Content
I have been conned.
The kind of con that lusts for the innocent and dangles them in front of their prey. The kind of con that recklessly wrings hearts of compassion, in hopes of tending to the fragile embers of this country’s future. They had me believing that I was not doing enough, that it was failing because I could do more, I could try harder. So I gave up my evening runs to think about what I could do differently. I gave up my salary to provide better resources. I gave up my nights to balancing paperwork with dinner, and my weekends to restructuring procedural techniques. I gave up my novels for “best practice” books. I gave up my heart and I cried because my kids could not even begin to comprehend the injustice of socio-economic advantage.
It is no secret the foundation of Public Education has been slowly bending with the weight of increased numbers, climbing world standards, and decreased resources. The enactment of Common Core, meant to alleviate the stresses of unequal education from state to state, has only been scrutinized because of its hurried implementation. Common Core in its true form is a tool to nourish our children’s critical thinking power. In order for our children to be “Career and College ready” they can no longer be book smart, they must be engineers of change, using their knowledge to innovate and create. The humble beginnings of Common Core were planted in the belief that all children are entitled to an equal education, so unified standards throughout the country were introduced. Unfortunately, the pursuit to be in the arena of states who were generating the best and brightest ideas overpowered the reality of state and teacher preparedness, the ability to support the initiative financially, and the teachers academically.
46 of the 50 States have agreed to implement Common Core (Minnesota only chose to use the English Language Arts Standards), leaving Virginia, Alaska, Texas, and Nebraska to fend for themselves. However, not every state chose to implement immediately. As shown by the map below, North Carolina, as well as seven other states, have been through at least one full year of implementation. Not until 2014-2015 will the majority of those 46 states begin full swing implementation.
An interesting correlation to note is displayed in Education Weekly’s map of the State Report Cards for 2013. 6 of the 8 states who were pioneers of Common Core implementation received C’s on their reports. Not to say Common Core is causing the drop, but rather that their push for early implementation was an incentive for change to prove that their state is innovative and improve the current struggle toward success.
Yet nobody wielded the foresight to understand the negative consequences. An unprepared curriculum change would weigh heavily on the work ethic of teachers and stamina of young students. In a study conducted by the Center of Education Policy in January of 2012, right around the turn from individualized state standards to Common Core, the highest concern of the states: “Finding adequate resources to implement the CCSS (Common Core).” 21 states cited this as an issue along with preparing teachers for the change. Regardless of these concerns, all states opted to continue with the process because of the increased rigor and promise of elevated educational expectations. This would place them in high esteem among other states. A political decision in place of a rational one considering those who would be affected.
By early November 2013, several states wish they had thought twice before accepting these standards.
Ohio recently moved to repeal the standards. Michigan lawmakers reopened debate this summer. School principals in New York wrote an open letter of concern saying the standards failed to line up with the new tests. Florida is keeping the standards, but in September decided not to use the tests.
The Common Core survived organized repeal efforts this year in Louisiana and Maine. Gov. Mike Pence in Indiana recently halted his state’s implementation. “I think the education standards in our state should be written by Hoosiers, for Hoosiers and of the highest magnitude,” Pence told a panel last month.
The 4 states who stood strong in the tidal wave of change continue to hold their roots. Alaska is potentially reconsidering but there is a strong group of critics who have begun to voice their concern. Texas may have outsmarted everyone when they estimated that the adoption and implementation would float around $3 billion in textbooks, training and testing materials. A realization that most states did not consider when the money for such training and materials was not present.
The trickledown of political decisions on behalf of education has got teachers in an uproar. States have accepted curriculum change to better their national rankings without considering the amount of prep work that will ensue. They also accepted Race to the Top money by promising performance based testing for teachers and principals, building data systems, and turning around lower performing schools. Essentially, this put a greater emphasis on regulated bi-weekly testing to measure growth and teacher value. The summer of 2013 will, no doubt, go down as one of the most dramatic summers of educational change in North Carolina. A summer in which teachers voiced their serious concerns as these changes emerged:
“Like many states, North Carolina has cut funding for education since the beginning of the recession. The recently released report “Most States Funding Schools Less Than Before Recession” from the non-partisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), finds that North Carolina has cut funding for public education by 8.6% since 2008. According to a PSFNC analysis of the 2013–15 budget, funding is now $600 million less than would be required to maintain funding at 2008 levels and makes North Carolina 48th in per pupil expenditures. Statewide enrollment has increased by more than 33,000 students since the budget cuts began.
So, what do these cuts mean for North Carolina schools?
- Schools will get only $43 per student for textbooks, technology, and classroom and instructional supplies.
- 2,500 slots for low-income children have been eliminated from the state’s pre-K program.
- About 5,200 teaching positions have been eliminated.
- The state’s average teacher salary has fallen from 25th nationally to 46th, due to a lack of pay raises and lower starting salaries. Average starting salaries have fallen from $35,000 to $31,000 in the last five years.
- Average salaries will continue to decline with the elimination of extra pay for teachers who earn a masters degree after March 2014. (See “Teachers” below for more information on changes to teacher policy.)
- 3,800 teaching assistants have been cut.
- Class sizes are larger and there is less staff support for remaining teachers and students.
- The highly regarded North Carolina Teaching Fellows has been eliminated.”
Are you beginning to see the discrepancy? The number one concern was resources and funding in the effective implementation of Common Core, and here we are cutting back on exactly what we need for our success as a state.
Who is left making up for this gap?
Who is blamed when our scores are low and success slows?
Who has less time to teach these standards because of Race to the Top testing? Who has taken on the role of parent because our children come into schools not knowing how to get along with other kids, respect anyone, and even use the bathroom properly?
It is in these moments where being a teacher feels like being in a business meeting all day, every day, constantly presenting new information while attempting to teach others. So when must teachers prepare themselves for these daily presentations? Outside of the work day, after 6 tiring hours teaching values, life skills, and that sacred educational stuff. So when resources are low, test monitoring and planning for students who are behind are high, there is simply not enough time in the day to get it all done.
I work 11 hours daily, getting to school at 7:30am, and prepping for the kids until 8:40am. A full school day with no bathroom break or second to sit until 3:30pm. Afterwards, cleaning up the desk that is piled high with papers, lost pencils, and notes until 4:30pm. Taking care of paperwork for at least an hour. Off for a quick run, then home for the couple hours of planning. Pouring our blood, sweat, and tears into the well-being of these children because the emotional connection to these little ones and their future success is so dear to our souls. Scrounging for resources while our superintendent is off running up the bill on the school issued credit card with no concern for lowered classroom funding.
Teachers have devoted their careers, not their livelihoods, to raising the future. We are not missionaries to die for the cause. Yet the compassion and emotional attachment that those precious faces instilled in us, drive us to do anything to help them succeed. The political changes in the recent years have certainly taken full advantage of this emotional connection. Making teachers feel responsible emotionally as well as academically through the Teacher Value Added system. Teachers have a major responsibility, but it must be a shared responsibility among law makers, parents and students, and even the surrounding community.
We are bulldozing head-on into an educational system that will resemble the efforts of Teach for America. Although TFA has good intentions, its efforts will never be self-sustainable. Every region that TFA resides in will continue to need TFA candidates. Candidates who may be intellectually overqualified, but unprepared to deal with not only the management but also the “how to instruct” aspect of teaching. Candidates spend two years figuring out how to maneuver the classroom and then leave in exhaustion or try to stay and cannot find jobs because of the change in employment from TFA to the public school. There will be no long tenured, mentor teachers who have the experience to help new teachers navigate the wildest situations. In fact, my mentor teachers today are telling me the only reason they are putting up with the changes is their close proximity to retirement.
Our children need consistency. I have already seen how I can look at my 1st graders from last year when they are acting up, and the connection they have with me causes them to feel more guilt than with their new teachers. How they come barreling down the hall to get a big bear hug almost every morning. It horrifies me that our government is apathetic towards these values. They are perfectly content with a two year turn around rate, as long as for two years, those teachers wring themselves dry, and give every ounce they have to their careers, disregarding personal health and the importance of family.
I have done everything I can, and yet it still is not enough. They told me it was still my fault. They told me I could do more, that I had more in me to give. For a time, we look at those 25 innocent faces, and we believe them.
I have decided to call their con, and challenge them to start taking some responsibility for the mess they have created.
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