My Convertible Life

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Moral Monday: Paying for Good Schools

In my previous job, I had the good fortune to find myself often attending meetings with Dudley Flood. You can read his full bio here, but he's served in a range of education roles from 8th grade teacher to associate superintendent for the NC Department of Public Instruction, where he retired in 1990. He holds degrees in education from NC Central University, East Carolina University and Duke University. In short, he's got the credentials and the experience to know what he's talking about when it comes to education.

But beyond his resume, Dr. Flood is a great storyteller -- and he weaves a fascinating tale of what he's seen over decades of involvement in public education. One of my favorite comments that I recall hearing in his speeches goes something like this:
People always say you can't just throw money at a problem. But just once, I'd like to try it out and see what happens.
That's what I want to say to our state legislature this week, as they prepare to pass a budget that strips ever more funding away from our public schools. Actually, what I really want to say to them isn't fit to print, so I'll just start with that.

Now of course, I don't actually mean throw the money. I don't mean like a pinata where the kids scramble to stuff their pockets with loose change.

What I mean is this: What would happen if we funded public education so that:

  • Teachers were paid as true professionals, particularly those with graduate degrees and extensive experience, to demonstrate the value of the job?
  • Schools were built to comfortably seat all the students and provide adequate teaching space for all classes?
  • Schools struggling to meet students' needs got extra assistance, including instructional coaches, literacy specialists and customized professional development for all faculty and staff?
  • Classes were small enough for teachers to be able to differentiate instruction and really address students' needs, or teacher assistants staffed most classrooms to supplement instruction and help manage the workload?
I want to know what that would look like. I want my tax dollars to go toward making those things happen. I want to live in a state that makes those kind of commitments.

But instead, North Carolina gets a General Assembly that:

  • Eliminates salary increases for teachers with advanced degrees starting in 2014 and teachers have only had one pay increase (a measly 1.2%) since 2008. Because why would you want to encourage and reward educators for pursuing more education? They're only teaching your children, after all.
  • Argues to remove building authority from local school boards, threatening the passage of upcoming school bonds (thankfully it appears this bill is dead, although it's had more lives than a cat).
  • Funds a $10 million voucher program (in the first year) to give some families "a way out" to leave for private schools without addressing any of the problems or challenges facing students and teachers in the public schools left behind.
  • Removes caps on class sizes and eliminates teacher assistants in 2nd and 3rd grades. If you've ever been the only adult in a room with 30 seven-year-olds for more than an hour, you know this is a bad idea.

It may be true that throwing money around won't fix anything. But depriving schools of the basics needed to get the job done sure as hell doesn't solve anything either.

Instead, targeting money at real solutions could make a world of difference: Ensuring teachers earn enough money that their children don't qualify for medicaid, constructing facilities that get students out of trailers and into well-equipped classrooms, coaching schools in research-based practices to make them more effective at reaching every child, creating environments that encourage learning and generate productive working conditions.

That's not throwing money around -- that's called investing.

1 comment:

But enough about me, let's talk about you. What do you think about me?