How I have learned and changed from this process: Self Analysis Post

            Before starting this blog, I felt like I was an informed young adult. I watched the news, I read the occasional article, I listened, and often contributed, when others spoke on issues. However, it was not until I started writing this blog that I realized I actually knew very little about the issues I was passionate about.  Sure, I knew which side I stood with, but my reasons for standing with that side were undefined. When people asked I would say, “Because Public Education is the best way to go,” or “Because the legislature is cutting funding.” I never actually knew the why or how behind the different viewpoints of the argument.

            The process of blog writing has caused me to delve deeper into the roots of issues. I have done extensive research on the opinions of both sides, and while I still believe the same thing I did before, I now have reasons to back up my beliefs. I have learned how to evaluate sources and question their validity and not be persuaded by any bias.  Many news outlets differ on opinions, so I have learned that in order for someone to make a well rounded opinion, they must read a various amount of sources and make their own inferences from there.

            Now, when someone asks me why I feel like the state is not supporting public education, I can name off a list of reasons. Every reason on this list will have been researched, inferred, and critically examined. I will have facts to support my opinion and will be able to counter arguments. Through the blog writing process, I have become much more informed on my issue have learned even more about myself and what influences the way I think.  Now, when I am faced with an issue in the future, instead of just forming my opinion on the face value of each argument, I will look for other sources. I will critically examine each different argument and will not base my argument solely on opinion, but on facts. Since my mother is a teacher, the public education debate drew an emotional response from me initially. With the knowledge I have now about each side of the debate, I am able to back up my emotional response with facts and better defend my stance. I have learned that it is good to be passionate about a topic, but it is even better if that passion is rooted in fact and critical thinking, as well as examination of your surroundings and yourself. 

Advertisements

Go look at my Classmates blogs!!

    If you have been reading through my blog and thinking, “Huh, that’s interesting, I want to know more,” then I would go check out my classmates blog found at http://nceducationdilemma.wordpress.com. He is also researching the North Carolina education debate and we have similar opinions as well. However, he goes much more in-depth into the issue of teacher salary cuts and merit based pay than I did within my blog. While we have similar viewpoints, this blog offers a different perspective on the issue and can help readers get a well-rounded sense of the topic.

            If you are looking for insight on an even more controversial topic, look into my other classmate’s blog on gun rights, http://gunsintheus.wordpress.com. Throughout this blog, she expresses her opinion, yet presents facts without bias as to let the reader make their own opinion. Also, she inputs personal experiences, which help her to get her point across in way that the reader can relate to.  I did not know much about the gun control debate, but this blog gave me the information I needed but still allowed me to form my own opinions. Last but not least, if you get sick of reading she has provided a couple of really great videos for you to enjoy.

            With the government shutdown just ending and the Affordable Care Act on high examination, health care is probably the most talked about issue among Americans at the moment. If you are anything like I was, you are lost when people start throwing out he terms, “online marketplace,” “Obamacare,” and “Medicaid.” However, the blog http://healthcarenc.wordpress.com/ helped me to sort through all the complicated terms and understand the basis of the healthcare debate. This blog is especially interesting because the author is an exchange student from China. So, not only does it help the reader better understand healthcare, but the author is also able to provide personal comparisons to how it contrasts to other parts of the world. This blog gives the reader a different perception of the issue and it is very interesting to learn how other countries are dealing with similar issues.

 

 

Extended Reading Links

In order to learn even more about the public education debate,  check out these links that helped me do my research.

http://www.ncgop.org/nc-house-republicans-state-education-spending-the-facts/ – This link is sponsored by the GOP and gives information about their side of the argument.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/20/moral-monday-north-carolina_n_3786358.html 

This article from the Huffington Post outlines the basis of the Moral Monday protests and also shows a slideshow of pictures from he different protests.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/30/anastasia-trueman-north-carolina_n_3677593.html

This is another article by the Huffington Post which details the choice of one North Carolina teacher to quit after the new budget was passed.

http://www.speaknc.org/2011/04/teaching-assistant/

This is the website of an organization that advocates for teacher assistants. They provide a way for supporters of teacher assistants to take action against the legislature as well as giving facts about the current budget.

http://www.the-spearhead.com/2013/08/02/nc-governor-mccrory-education-cuts-teacher-benefits/

Here is a link to an opinion piece I read while trying to think of solutions for my theory post. The author proposes an interesting, detailed solution to help education in North Carolina.

http://www.nea.org/home/54597.htm

This is a statistical website that outlines where North Carolina stands in many categories including enrollment, price per student, and salaries.

 http://dianeravitch.net/

This is a blog written by Diane Ravitch who is a historian of education. It was really interesting and helpful for me to read about her view on education and apply it to the problems North Carolina is having. 

The Future of NC Public Education: Implications Post

     As illustrated in my earlier posts, public education in North Carolina is loosing funding, personnel, and teachers are once again, not receiving a raise. If these patterns continue, the state of public education in North Carolina will plummet. Currently, the government is planning on supporting private schools with Opportunity Vouchers. The government is in charge of leading its citizens. If the citizens see that the government is not supporting public education, they will start to question whether or not they should be supporting it. This could lead to more parents placing their kids in private schools, which could in turn lead even more teacher cuts in public schools. This could result in qualified teachers choosing to teach at private schools over public ones. In addition, the lack of support shown by the legislature to public schools is already, and will continue to negatively the amount of young students choosing to teach in North Carolina or choosing to go into the education profession at all. For example, I have always entertained the idea of becoming a teacher but then I see how poorly they are valued by the state and I quickly change my mind. Those students who do choose to go into the education field will see how North Carolina treats teachers and will move elsewhere to start their career. This will again lead to NC public school having less qualified teachers which results in students being less prepared. Unless the North Carolina legislature makes some changes to their public education policy, it will continue to be under supported and under appreciated. The public will recognize their lack of support and will follow suit. This will result in a smaller public education system that will not have the personnel to support, prepare, and lead its students. In the long term, if the legislature keeps treating the public education system like they are now, the state of North Carolina will produce a generation who is not prepared for their future because the government did not provide them with the education they deserved.  

 

 

How the Education Debate Could be Solved: Theory Post

     The public education debate in North Carolina has been widely discussed, but either side has yet to propose any compromises or solutions for the issue. Both sides are fighting for the same outcome: the ability for North Carolina to equip children with strong educations and foundations for their future lives as productive citizens. However, they have different ways and ideas for accomplishing that goal. The legislature feels that in this economic state, public education cuts are a necessity.     

       These cuts impact teacher pay, teacher assistant positions, and access to instructional material. They also propose a merit pay system for teachers and appropriate money towards awarding low income students with private school vouchers. However, protestors think that the cuts are unfair and show a lack of support for public education from the government.  

      Compromises will have to be made in order for both sides to come to agreement. I feel like the first compromise should concern the merit pay system. The merit pay concept is a good philosophy, the state should reward teachers who are continuously making the most impact on their students. However, the state legislature wants to measure this impact by standardized testing of students. The impact a teacher has on a student is a subjective, unquantifiable variable. If the legislature could figure out a way to track a teacher’s efficiency objectively without using test scores, the merit pay system would be a win-win for both sides of the debate. In order to do this, the legislature could provide standardized evaluation forms for administrators to fill out after observing the teachers in the classroom. Even better, it could hire an objective, outside third party committee to evaluate teachers through in-class observations and evaluations. 

            As for the Opportunity Voucher debate, I feel like in order to make protestors happy, the legislature should not use this money to support private schools. The purpose of Opportunity Vouchers is to provide low income students the opportunity to get the individualized academic attention that they may not be able to receive in public schools. However, the state could still accomplish this goal if they transferred the money they were going to give to private schools and instead funneled it into creating special programs at public schools to help these children. This way, they are giving these students the attention they need without supporting private education institutions.

            When it comes to reinstating teacher assistants and adding instructional materials, the state will have to decide whether they value these entities enough to spend taxpayer money on it; or, if it will just be a casualty of the hard economic times.  Education is an important part of society and people will always debate in order to make sure it is working properly and to the best of its ability. Nevertheless, I feel like the legislature and the protestors could meet in the middle on many topics in order to unite in the support of public education, and help it reach its full potential for the students of North Carolina. 

Cuts at the University Level

     Budget cuts are not only affecting K-12 schools, but are making their mark at the University level as well. With the new budget, public North Carolina Universities will have to cut their spending by $260 million this year and $222 million next year.  Out of state students attending UNC campuses at Chapel Hill, Wilmington, Greensboro, and Winston Salem will be hit with a 12.3% tuition increase and  those at other campuses will be hit with six percent hike. These cuts are forcing some universities to layoff staff. Also, the cuts are causing universities to cut back on the amount of classes offered and the number of sections offered for each class.

    As a college student, I feel as though these cuts will be very detrimental to my education. College is expensive already. Out of state students bring diversity and intelligence to North Carolina’s campuses and I am afraid that the increasing tuition prices will deter these valuable students from coming to North Carolina for their education. In addition, as an in-state student I feel like I pay enough money to deserve a full faculty as well as full sections. The lack of sections decreases the amount of classes offered, therefore limiting the options students have. By cutting funds at the university level and the K-12 level, the legislature is demonstrating its lack of support for public education as a whole.

 

Analyzing the North Carolina Public Education Debate

   In North Carolina, the newly adopted budget has made changes to public education and is sparking public and political debate. The public debate was illustrated by the nationally publicized “Moral Monday” protests where citizens gathered in the capital city to protest state legislative action. Many protestors specifically showed their support for public education by wearing, “red for public-ed.” The political debate has taken place within the legislative branch. Just like most political debates, there are relatively two sides to this argument, the Republicans versus the Democrats. The Republicans argument is that these cuts are necessary to improve the states current economic situation. The Democrats feel as though these cuts and appropriations are too drastic, harming the youth of North Carolina and causing their educations to suffer.  In the North Carolina General Assembly, Republicans make up the majority of both the Senate and the House and in North Carolina the Governor, Pat McCrory, is also a republican. This post will focus on analyzing the newly passed budget and how it deals with public education. When the different aspects of the cuts interact and are applied, they will cause negative effects on North Carolina public education in the form of dampening the positive attitudes and classroom efficiency that is born from being supported and nurtured by the state government.

     One harmful aspect of the new budget that I have previously discussed is the cutting of teacher assistants. Around 3,000-teacher assistant positions will be cut by 2015.  The job description of teaching assistants given by the North Carolina Public Schools includes providing academic assistance, instructional support, reporting and record keeping, and monitoring student behavior. Back when I was in elementary school, they were used in grades K-3 and also in classrooms that had kids with special needs. Now, there are no more teaching assistants in third grade, and they are being phased out in first and second grade. A study done in 1993 showed that teacher assistants helped under-achieving students gain oral and reading skills. Also, having two adults in the classroom cuts the teacher-to-student ratio in half, allowing for more individualized attention per student.

     After the passing of the “No Child Left Behind”Act in 2002, teacher assistants had to fulfill a series of qualifications in order to continue working. These qualifications include having either an associates degree, taking 48 hours of college courses, completing the Department of Labor Program, or passing the Work Keys Test and undergoing 96 hours of staff development. Now, only seven years after the passed deadline for these requirements, many teacher assistants are losing their jobs and stuck without a source of income.

     Teacher Assistants are the second line of instruction , giving children more one-on-one attention.They have had formal training and reduce the teacher’s workload so they are able to focus on preparing and equipping students with skills needed for the next grade level. The Republican party feels as though cutting teacher assistants is necessary for economic stability. Also, that by cutting teacher assistant jobs, they are freeing up funds to hire more full time teachers. However, while this solution may fix economic issues, it does not address the void that will be left in the classroom by the disappearance of teacher assistants. The newly hired full time teachers will still face the problem of not having the extra support within the classroom. It is in grades K-3 that you learn the basis of academia and social skills.  This basis includes the ability to read, write, compromise, and work with others. Teachers are equipped with the knowledge to do this. However, adding another qualified individual, a teacher assistant, allows for more specialized teaching based on student’s learning style. Also, it fosters a more efficient learning environment for students, which better equips them for future endeavors.

     Teacher assistants are not the only people being shortchanged in the public education system. North Carolina full time teacher salaries have been frozen since 2009 and rank 46th  for teacher pay in the United States. Teachers have only been given a 1.2% pay raise in the last five years. This raise only makes up for inflation but in actuality does not give teachers an actual increase in pay.  Also, the bonus they were given for having a Masters Degree or their National Board Certification is in the process of being phased out. By not giving teachers a raise, the government is once again showing that they do not appreciate the work that they do or support public schools. Currently, the average teacher salary in North Carolina is $10,000 less than the national average. 

     Prior to the freeze, teachers were promised a “step” raise with each year of experience.  Essentially, a step pay awards a fixed amount raise to a teacher after the successful completion of every school year. This helped to prevent teacher turnover and rewarded experienced teachers.  However, these “step” raises stopped and teacher with one year of experience are granted the same amount of pay as teachers with five to ten years of experience.  

            In addition to not showing current teachers support, the low pay and lack of salary mobility discourages future generations from wanting to become educators. North Carolina State University reported a 17% drop in education majors in the fall of 2013.This will lead to a smaller amount of qualified teachers and a less competitive job field, which will hinder the education of future generations.

     Another aspect of the budget cuts is the addition of private school vouchers, known as “Opportunity Scholarships.”  The State Education Assistance Authority (SEAA) leads this program. These vouchers are worth $4,200 and will be given to low-income students in order to pay for private schooling. The vouchers will be funded by taxes and $10 million dollars was set-aside in the budget to do this. In its initial year, the vouchers will be given to 2,500 students. In years to follow, legislatures want to increase the number of vouchers given. 

     This voucher program brings up the issue of the separation of church and state, which is outlined in the first amendment of the US constitution.  Separation of church and state means that the government is not allowed to enact laws that promote or favor one religion over another. According to a report done in 2009, 71 percent of the 683 private schools operating in North Carolina are religiously based. No where in the voucher policy does it state that these vouchers will not be given to schools with a religious basis. So, with that majority, it is inevitable that some of the vouchers will be given to send students to schools that teach, practice, and promote a certain religion. Therefore, this means that taxpayer money, i.e. government funding, will be used to educate students about a certain religion. This blurs the line of separation and state. If in fact it crosses this line, these vouchers will be considered unconstitutional by not only the state, but the federal government.

     Supporters of the voucher program believe it is the answer to helping low income children get the individualized attention they need to reach their full potential. They feel as though public schooling does not foster the kind of specialized instruction that a private school is able to provide. If it is true that public school does not foster specialized instruction, the only way to fix it is to support it. By funneling funds into private schools, the state is only taking support away from public schools and causing what they say is a lack of specialized educational ability to worsen.

            The voucher program is sending a message that the state government does not support its own public school system. As of 2009, only nine percent of the K-12 student population attended private school. The taxes that are going to fund this project come from the general public who primarily have children who attend public schools. The majority of citizens should not be obligated to fund private schools that do not benefit them when public schools are already suffering from budget troubles. For example, these taxes paid into the voucher program could be used to keep teacher assistants or provide teachers with the raise they have been waiting for since 2009.  If one was to look at the program superficially, it would look like the voucher program was actually saving the schools money. For instance, it costs around $8,700 per student per year to attend public school. Since the vouchers are only worth $4,200, they are saving the school system around $4,000 each year for each student awarded a voucher. However, ten million dollars was set aside to start up this voucher program. This is ten million dollars that was previously used to fund public schools and is now missing from that budget.  Therefore in actuality, the voucher program is causing a loss in funds for public schooling and could once again be used to help fund teacher assistants or grant teachers a raise.

     Overall, these three different aspects of the budget cuts work together to demonstrate the lack of support for public schooling that is coming from the North Carolina General Assembly desk.  The money paid into the voucher program could have instead been funneled into either helping salvage teacher assistant positions, or providing some sort of raise for existing teachers. In addition the voucher program itself shows that the legislature believes private schools can provide a better education than public schools.  This is almost ironic considering the people who believe this, the legislative majority, are the same ones who are supposed to be managing the public school system. The fact that they are financially supporting private schools shows that they do not have faith in the system they themselves have established.  The legislatures believe that these vouchers are able to give low-income students more specialized attention. However, one of the main purposes of teacher assistants is to provide individualized attention to students. Therefore, if the legislature restored teacher assistants, they would be able to provide for these student’s needs without having to go through the trouble of creating the voucher system and potentially crossing the constitutional line of separation of church and state. Also, reinstating teacher assistants will provide full time teachers with the internal support required for delivering more individualized attention to students.  Thus, once again with these provisions the voucher program could be eliminated. However, if the government wants to provide students with the best people to deliver this individualized attention, they will have to raise teacher pay. By raising pay they will foster a more competitive job market and be able to experience the luxury of having a large field to choose from and being able to hire only the most qualified teachers.  The more financial support given to the public education system will equip schools and teachers with the tools they need to give North Carolina students the best education possible, without having to outsource to private schooling. Governor McCrory showed where his priorities were when he increased his cabinet, made up of his political advisors, salaries by a combined 1.1 million dollars.  This was money that could have been used to funneled into the school system. For example, it could funded 47 teacher assistants making the average $21,000 salary. Without governmental support, public schools in North Carolina will never reach their full potential and will fall into a downward spiral injuring the educational well-being of future generations.

As I have said before, I am the daughter of a public school teacher. This has allowed to see first hand how hard my mother works. During the school year, it’s not uncommon for her to spend more time at school than she does at home. During high school, even with all my various after-school activities, I would still be surprised if she was ever home before I was. I have had great teachers. Just like my mom, I see how hard they work.  This is why it is so frustrating for me to see how little they are compensated for all that they do.

The average teacher salary in North Carolina is $45,933. This is approximately $10,000 less than the national average.  However, starting pay is only around $30,800 and salaries have been frozen since 2009.  In 2008, North Carolina ranked 27th for teacher pay. Nevertheless, because of the freeze and budget cuts, we have now slid down to 46th on that same list.  Prior to the new budget passing, teachers could receive a ten percent pay raise by going back to school and getting their masters degrees. In addition, they could earn their National Board Certification and receive a twelve percent hike. However, the new budget will phase out this incentive. McCrory is trying to implement a merit pay system for teachers which will reward the top 25% a $500 raise and also convert all teacher contracts to one, two, or four years long. These short contracts will make it easier to fire teachers as well as making it harder for teachers to obtain tenure. North Carolina State University reported a 17% drop in teaching education majors. I feel as though this statistic illustrates how our government is actively discouraging students from going into the teaching field because they see it spiraling down into a bleak future. If the government wants an educated generation, they have to start with investing in the people who are willing to make that happen.

School Vouchers

     To me, one of the most confusing concepts about this new budget is the idea of school vouchers. After research, I learned that school vouchers are basically money given to underprivileged kids that will pay for non-public school tuition. Governor McCrory allotted 10 million dollars in the new NC budget to pay for these vouchers. Each voucher is worth up to $4,200. Vouchers will be managed by the North Carolina State Education Assistance Authority (SEAA) and families can apply for them starting February 2014. Only families that are below a certain combined income level are eligible to receive the vouchers. It is unconstitutional to provide state funding directly to private schools. Therefore, the funds will be sent to the parents who will then have to go to the school and endorse the document, which will allow the school access to the money. In order for a school to be eligible to have voucher students, they must run for nine months a year, require up-to-date immunization records, and administer nationally recognized and standardized achievement tests in third, sixth ninth, and eleventh grade. Legislatures that were in favor of the vouchers say that this program will save schools money because some students will switch to private education and that will cut down on expenses. Consequently, the government cut down on the public school’s per-pupil allotment by over 11 million dollars. However, further fiscal analysis showed that these vouchers will cost the state anywhere between five to 23 million dollars because some students who receive the vouchers would have paid for private schooling anyway.

     I disagree with this program. North Carolina has one of the lowest teacher salaries in the country and I think our focus should be improving that instead of switching to private schools. It is great that the government is helping lower-income students to get an education, but they already can with public schools and I think our focus should be improving those, the schools where the majority of students attend.  I went to public school my whole life and I don’t feel as though my peers who attended private school received a better education than me. Also, many private schools are religiously based. I think it blurs the lines of church and state to have taxpayers providing funds to schools who have religious themes. The legislature is misusing precious tax payer money in a way that is only beneficial to a small majority.