Blog Archive

Introducing MeckEd’s Advocacy Toolkit

Friday, April 4th, 2014

By Bill Anderson, Executive Director

I am pleased to share with you MeckEd’s new advocacy toolkit — a guide we hope you will download, share with your friends, and use as a resource to champion for excellent public education for all children. Bill Anderson

This guide, which focuses primarily on MeckEd’s public policy goal of increasing North Carolina teacher salaries, includes  tools to help advocates push for change. There are helpful “Dos and Don’ts,” sample social media posts, and contact information for our elected officials. The toolkit also includes some fast facts about teacher compensation. We hope you will use these facts in an email, letter, phone call or social media post over the next six weeks. Please let our elected officials hear from you. Don’t forget to share personal stories from your own experience. And, if you’re on Facebook or Twitter, please use the hashtag #onthebusNC so we can keep track of the conversation.

This guide is a first step.

Now, we need you to take action.

A Common Core for All of Us

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

This article by Jennifer Finney Boylan appeared in the For Your Consideration section in our April 2, 2014 e-Newsletter and originally appeared in The New York Times. For Your Consideration provides an open forum for individuals to voice their opinions on various public education issues.

I couldn’t get a cab. A sketchy-looking guy hunkering around the entrance of the Grand Hyatt in San Diego showed me his bicycle. “Climb on, lady,” he said. “I’ll take ya.”

I thought it over. “O.K.,” I said.

So that was how I arrived — balanced on the back of a bicycle seat — at my destination, a restaurant where I was meeting two writer friends, Colum McCann and Sheri Fink. I gave the man 10 bucks, and asked him for his name, which he said was Cuckoo.

“Cuckoo?” I asked. Boylan

“In the best way of all,” he said, and then rode off.

Colum and Sheri were drinking mojitos. Sheri looked at me as if I’d arrived by spaceship. “You do have all these adventures,” she said.

We’d come to San Diego to participate in the Annual Conference on the First Year Experience, a convocation held every February at which publishers pitch various authors’ books for adoption by colleges and universities as part of freshman reading programs. If your book is chosen, it can mean thousands of copies sold.

The emerging canon of such “common reads” leans toward issues of diversity and culture. “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” a novel by Mark Haddon about an autistic teenager, is a popular choice, as is Khaled Hosseini’s “Kite Runner.” But these books can be controversial — when the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill chose “Approaching the Qur’an,” by Michael Sells, in 2002, it had to go to court to defend its selection. The next year, it was criticized again for choosing Barbara Ehrenreich’s “Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America.” All of this raises the question: What are colleges seeking from such books? What is this common language we want our college students — not to say citizens — to share?

This question is also playing out in the debate over the adoption of the Common Core State Standards in education, now fully adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia. The original goal of the program (coordinated by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers) seemed uncontroversial: to establish consistent educational goals nationwide. These goals include teaching our children to be good writers and readers, competent in mathematics and quantitative reasoning, and conversant with social studies and science.

It’s hard to argue with that. And yet discontent with the Common Core is spreading, especially among Republicans. A few Republican governors are now so intent on distancing themselves from the Common Core’s presumed progressive bias that they’re changing its name. In Florida, it’s now called the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards, and in Arizona, Gov. Jan Brewer renamed it Arizona’s College and Career Ready Standards.

“We don’t ever want to educate South Carolina children like they educate California children,” said Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina, presumably because doing so would result in children in the Palmetto State riding longboards and listening to the Grateful Dead.
On the other hand, you have the Common Core supporter Bill Gates, who suggests, “It’s ludicrous to think that multiplication in Alabama and multiplication in New York are really different.”

I suspect that this debate is not really about multiplication. What we’re arguing about is what we want from our children’s education, and what, in fact, “getting an education” actually means. For some parents, the primary desire is for our sons and daughters to wind up, more or less, like ourselves. Education, in this model, means handing down shared values of the community to the next generation. Sometimes it can also mean shielding children from aspects of the culture we do not approve of, or fear.

For others, education means enlightening our children’s minds with the uncensored scientific and artistic truth of the world. If that means making our own sons and daughters strangers to us, then so be it.

My friend Richard Russo, in a commencement address 10 years ago at my college, Colby, noted that “it is the vain hope of middle-class parents that their children will go off to college and later be returned to them economically viable but otherwise unchanged.” But, he said, sending “kids off to college is a lot like putting them in the witness protection program. If the person who comes out is easily recognizable as the same person who went in, something has gone terribly, dangerously wrong.”

Whether educating our children means making them like us, or unlike us, was the subtext in San Diego as the assembled deans and professors considered the prospective “common reads.” Among a certain cohort there was wild enthusiasm for Alexa von Tobel’s “Financially Fearless,” an introduction to the field of financial planning. Another sort of reader entirely seemed to be drawn to my book, a memoir of transgender experience. (I did see one dean look at my book, with its subtitle: “A Life in Two Genders,” and then run, as if her clothes were on fire.)

It occurs to me that what enemies of a Common Core — by any name — have come to fear is really loneliness. It’s the sadness that comes when we realize that our children have thoughts that we did not give them; needs and desires we do not understand; wisdom and insight that might surpass our own.

Maybe what we need is a common core for families, in which mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, all read the same book, and sit down at the table to talk about it. Having a language in common doesn’t mean we have to agree with one another. It simply means that we — as a family, a college or a country — can engage in a meaningful conversation about the life of the mind.

That’s what I call cuckoo. In the best way of all.

The views expressed in For Your Consideration are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of MeckEd.

Do you have a comment? Please post your response below:

About the Author:

Jennifer Finney Boylan is a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times and a professor at Colby College.

 

 

How My Triplets Deepened My Conviction About Education

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014

This article by Tim Hurley appeared in the For Your Consideration section in our March 5, 2014 e-Newsletter and originally appeared in The Charlotte Observer. For Your Consideration provides an open forum for individuals to voice their opinions on various public education issues.

This fall, my wife Susie and I welcomed our first, second and third children to the world – triplets born 12 weeks early, eight pounds between them. Since then, we’ve made three long-awaited trips from the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Levine Children’s Hospital through the doorway of our home – first with Sarah Caroline, then with Susannah Grace, then, finally, with Paul – our beloved son against whom the odds were most frighteningly stacked. With each, I had my first, second and third first-hand experience of the fierceness of a parent’s desire to see his children thrive. And as my heart swelled, my conviction deepened. Every day, our city defaults on the promise of an equal public education for thousands of students. Less physically vulnerable than my three, these children face risks no less grave. We must do better. We have no time to waste. Tim Hurley

A few generations ago, the very idea of keeping infants like mine alive would have been met with scoffs or sympathetic sighs. It’s not that we didn’t care – we just didn’t think it possible. We had no evidence, no precedent. Today, as the conversation around education escalates, we see this same tendency loom. We want proof before we proceed. We squabble over changes at the margins without addressing the glaring racial and economic inequalities at the heart of our system. We let days pass and generations of children grow up.

Today, as I watch my son sleeping beside his sisters, I’m grateful for the capable hands of every doctor and nurse who cared for us, along with the many professionals that came before – all those who had the courage to think beyond what is to imagine what could be. As I give thanks for the innovations these talented individuals birthed and the culture of excellence and expertise that allowed them do it, I see hope for our educational future and the starting point on which it depends.

With our children’s well-being hanging in the balance, I propose we start with faith – an uncompromising belief that we can and must educate and care for all of Charlotte’s children. My own faith comes from the teachings of Christ – a conviction that all children are created in the image of God and must be treated with dignity and respect. Others find this faith elsewhere – in family, in allegiance to democratic values, in their own spiritual commitments. Wherever we look, we must each find faith.

We need to have faith in our educators – the talented women and men who are our single greatest asset in the struggle for educational equity. We need to demonstrate that faith by building a system that rewards their work, celebrates their craft and sets a high bar for excellence. We need to have faith in the power of cooperation – rejecting old divides and committing to new partnerships to conquer long-standing challenges. Most important, we need to have faith in our kids – certain that, if we give them access to ideas, opportunity and encouragement, they’ll leave us marveling at just how high they fly.

This work will be difficult, painstaking even, and dizzyingly complex. It will come in partial victories and plentiful setbacks. But we have to believe we can succeed. Then, like the doctors and nurses who transformed the prognosis for premature infants – for my infants – we have to use experience from the field, the latest research and a culture of collaboration to get us there.

Together, we can make Charlotte the place every child receives the unconditional love, commitment and outstanding care she needs to thrive. We can make ours a community where teachers feel the warmth of a city’s embrace.

Let’s build a beacon. Let’s have faith.

The views expressed in For Your Consideration are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of MeckEd.

Do you have a comment? Please post your response below:

About the Author:

Tim Hurley is the executive director of Teach for America in Charlotte and is a member of Christ Central Church.

 

 

Voucher Lawsuit Needed to Proceed

Wednesday, February 19th, 2014

This article by the editorial board of The Charlotte Observer appeared in the For Your Consideration section in our February 19, 2014 e-Newsletter. For Your Consideration provides an open forum for individuals to voice their opinions on various public education issues.

North Carolina’s wrongheaded voucher program is rightly headed to court, despite the state’s lawyers push on Monday to get lawsuits against the program dismissed. N.C. lawmakers should never have passed this bad law that diverts public funds to private schools. The plaintiffs make a strong case that the legislation is unconstitutional. We hope Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood’s refusal to dismiss the lawsuits will be the start of derailing this misuse of taxpayer dollars.

Two lawsuits were filed in December against the program that lawmakers dubbed “Opportunity Scholarships.” The North Carolina Association of Educators and the North Carolina Justice Center filed suit on behalf of more than two dozen N.C. residents. The N.C. School Boards Association filed a similar but separate suit. They are being heard together.

As of last week, more than 1,400 families had submitted applications for 2,100 scholarships, which will be $4,200 per child. We hope Judge Hobgood on Friday will stay the program until the courts decide the matter.

The lawsuits correctly point out that this program doesn’t just transfer millions of tax dollars to private entities. The public money would unwisely support private programs that aren’t subject to the rigorous oversight of public schools. One example? Only the head of the school is required to have a criminal background check for the school to qualify for voucher funds. No teacher has to be screened.

And though the voucher-receiving schools must test students, lawmakers set no minimums for scores, grade point averages or graduation rates. The program – for the first year – is only available to students who qualify for free and reduced-price lunches, but schools aren’t required to provide lunch. The schools also may discriminate based on race, religion and sexual orientation.

These are not environments for which taxpayer dollars should be used.

Crucially, the N.C. Constitution seems to disallow this private use of public monies. Article IX, Section 6 says all monies for the purposes of public education “shall be faithfully appropriated and used exclusively for establishing and maintaining a uniform system of free public schools.”

“The North Carolina Constitution could not be more explicit,” said the Justice Center’s Melinda Lawrence,. “Public monies are to be used only for free public schools. Period.”

Sadly, this is not the first time N.C. lawmakers have tried to get around the state constitution regarding public education. The state Supreme Court ruled in both 1997 and 2004 that North Carolina had failed to meet its constitutional obligation to educate its at-risk children, and ordered remedies. One remedy became the state’s nationally praised preschool program. But in 2011, lawmakers tried to limit eligibility for the program to save money. They backed down after Superior Court Judge Howard Manning said the state was obligated to continue making the program available to all at-risk N.C. children.

Voucher proponents argue that the scholarships are being funded from general funds not designated public education money, and thus constitutional. We disagree. They also argue that the program gives parents options when they feel the public schools are failing their children. But studies show very mixed results for low-income school voucher programs.

Lawmakers would have done better by adequately funding the public schools, and paying teachers what they deserve, rather than wasting dollars on this misguided, likely unconstitutional, endeavor. They still have time to do so.

The views expressed in For Your Consideration are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of MeckEd.

Why NC Public Schools Are Still the Best Choice for Parents, Students

Wednesday, February 5th, 2014

This article by Karey Harwood and Patty Williams appeared in the For Your Consideration section in our February 3, 2014 e-Newsletter and originally appeared in The News & Observer. For Your Consideration provides an open forum for individuals to voice their opinions on various public education issues.

Public schools, charter schools and private schools give North Carolina parents many choices for their child’s education. Along with these choices comes a whole lot of marketing, most of it not supported by facts.

All parents want schools that meet the needs of their child while helping all children get a strong start in life. When choosing the right school, parents should keep in mind the overwhelming evidence that traditional public schools remain the best choice.

Traditional public schools tend to have better teachers. North Carolina public schools have more nationally board-certified teachers than any state in the nation. Board certification is not merely a credential. It represents a level of professional development that translates into measurable academic gains for kids. By contrast, charter schools in North Carolina require only 50 percent of their teachers to be licensed to teach, let alone board-certified. Private schools have no set requirements on credentialed teachers.

Public schools can offer richer instruction through a wider variety of classes and programs that meet each student’s interests and needs. There are enough students to justify hiring a physics teacher, enough athletes to field a football team and enough musicians to have a band. Public schools offer programs such as STEM, IB or foreign languages and specialized instruction for those with disabilities.

Traditional public schools also tend to educate a wider range of students with more diverse interests and talents, offering better preparation for the real world by teaching children how to get along with people from all walks of life. Unfortunately, the proliferation of charter and private schools, especially in a smaller district, can mean that course offerings in any one school are diminished, diversity is lost and efforts are duplicated across schools, which strains available resources, including the labor pool of qualified teachers.

Traditional public schools have clearer instructional standards and more meaningful accountability. Public schools don’t follow fads; they follow evidence about what works. They are also held accountable to public standards and must achieve measurable results. Private schools have no public accountability for the standards they set, the results they achieve or their practices for admission, discipline or expulsion. In North Carolina, this lack of accountability holds even for private schools that will accept public money through the new private school voucher program.

A common misperception is that private schools offer better academic quality than traditional public schools. The facts say otherwise. A new study of mathematics instruction says that public elementary schools outperform private schools once advantages associated with academic success – money and highly educated parents – are accounted for.

Another common misperception is that educational innovation is not possible in traditional, noncharter public schools. On the contrary, traditional public schools are fully capable of innovation and creativity, especially when given adequate financial support. Magnet schools are a type of traditional public school, and they have demonstrated tremendous creativity. In Wake County, where the magnet application period began this week, there is an array of national award-winning choices, from Washington Gifted and Talented Magnet to Farmington Woods International Baccalaureate Magnet to Combs Leadership Magnet and more.

Traditional public schools have a track record and built-in safeguards that make them a more trustworthy choice over charter and private schools. The most recent research shows that charters on average perform no better than traditional public schools and in some cases do worse. Lax accountability for North Carolina’s charter schools sets the stage for numerous problematic outcomes, including financial mismanagement, subpar education for students, huge problems with pushing out students over minor disciplinary problems and increased racial and socioeconomic isolation. There are too many examples from other states where students who are unhappy with their charter school choice end up back in traditional public schools further behind and no better off.

Choice is good, until you make the wrong choice. Parents have too much at stake in their child’s education to confuse new with better and improved. Beware of slick packaging, promises of outcomes not backed by a track record and choices that actually offer less enriched instruction rather than more. The facts and history favor the schools that moved North Carolina from a largely rural state to a global center for education, research, banking, biomedical innovation, sports and high-tech manufacturing: North Carolina’s public schools.

The views expressed in For Your Consideration are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of MeckEd.

Do you have a comment? Please post your response below:

About the Authors:

Karey Harwood, Ph.D., is executive director of Public Schools First NC. Patty Williams is the group’s director of communications.

 

 

Learning, a job, no debt

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

This article by Tom Kellerhals appeared in the For Your Consideration section in our January 22, 2014 e-Newsletter and originally appeared in The Charlotte Observer. For Your Consideration provides an open forum for individuals to voice their opinions on various public education issues.

With college costs soaring, some are wondering if there is a way for students to prepare for meaningful careers without incurring massive debt.

In parts of Europe, the “dual system,” a combination of both academic and sophisticated technical training, has been available for many years. Recently, some elements of this alternative approach have been successfully implemented in areas of the U.S. Implementing elements of the dual system may provide answers not only to the college debt crisis, but also to the critical economic problems associated with thousands of unfilled, well-paying jobs requiring advanced training, as well as high youth underemployment and unemployment.

Joerg Klisch is Vice President of North American operations for Tognum America Inc., a German firm that manufactures diesel engines at the MTU Aiken Plant in Graniteville, S.C. Klisch said, “After living in the U.S. for nine years, what concerns me about the American system is that a student can go to school for 12 years, graduate from high school, elect not to go to college and have no marketable skills that can be applied to many, many good paying jobs. As a result, those jobs remain unfilled and people and the economy suffer. I believe we can do better. In my view, implementing parts of the dual system provides the ‘missing link’ in the U.S. educational system.”

In Charlotte, eight advanced manufacturing firms, several high schools and Central Piedmont Community College have joined to form “Apprenticeship 2000.” Students are selected for the program in the 11th grade and work part-time at participating firms while attending high school and, later, classes at CPCC. The program lasts four years. While participating, students are compensated for their work and their tuition is paid by their sponsoring firm. Upon graduation, they receive an associate’s degree, a journeyman’s certificate, and a guaranteed job – all without debt.

It is important to note that many participating firms will provide tuition assistance for individuals who later seek a bachelor’s degree. Stefanie Jehlitschka, Vice President of the German American Chamber of Commerce (GACC), has met with many program graduates who have been promoted to managerial positions over the years. “It is certain to me that there are great opportunities for career growth for Apprenticeship 2000 graduates,” she said.
Clifton Vann, president of Livingston & Haven in Charlotte, not only sponsors student apprenticeships but also is involved in industrial design competitions for students. “The linkage between advanced manufacturing, low unemployment, high wages and sophisticated training is important to understand,” Vann said. “In Germany, the commitment to advanced manufacturing and the sophisticated training required for advanced manufacturing has created an economic powerhouse.”

In February 2011, the Harvard Graduate School of Education published the “Pathways to Prosperity Project” under the guidance of Academic Dean Dr. Robert Schwartz. The Pathways report was dedicated to meeting the challenges of preparing young Americans for 21st century jobs, and concluded, “The American system for preparing young people to lead productive and prosperous lives as adults is clearly badly broken.” Yet the project summary held out hope, with echoes of the dual system: “If we could develop an American strategy to engage educators and employers in a more collaborative approach to the education and training of the next generation of workers, it would surely produce important social as well as economic returns on investment.”

What will it take to expose students, parents, U.S. companies, educators, and policymakers to this important new option? We are a country of immigrants. The U.S. has succeeded, in part, by combining lessons learned from our ancestral homes and adapting them into a uniquely American way of doing things. On a trip to Germany, I learned about the dual system and saw what the approach has contributed to the strongest economy in Europe. Upon returning, I became aware that elements of the dual system have been adopted successfully by the U.S. While the number of communities, industries, and students participating to date has been small, the personal and economic impact on those participating has been dramatic. It seems time to share this tremendous advantage even more broadly.

The views expressed in For Your Consideration are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of MeckEd.

Do you have a comment? Please post your response below:

About the Author:

Tom Kellerhals is the Principal of Thomas M. Kellerhals, LLC, a firm dedicated to finding global solutions to local problems. He is a retired businessman and resides in Chester, S.C.

 

 

Pay Our Teachers or Lose Your Job

Thursday, January 9th, 2014

This article by Deborah R. Gerhardt appeared in the For Your Consideration section in our January 9, 2014 e-Newsletter and originally appeared in Slate. For Your Consideration provides an open forum for individuals to voice their opinions on various public education issues.

My son Ben’s language arts teacher emailed one morning this winter to tell me she is leaving Ben’s school. I feel sick, but I don’t blame her. Three of Ben’s middle school teachers have left in the past year. North Carolina’s intentional assault on public education is working. It is pushing our best teachers out. Deborah Gerhardt

Ten years ago my family moved to Chapel Hill. A relatively low cost of living and bipartisan commitment to public education made North Carolina immensely attractive. There is plenty of historic precedent for devaluing public education in the South, and for many years North Carolina was not much different from its neighbors. In 1997 the state ranked 42nd in teacher pay. The year before, Gov. Jim Hunt had run on a platform to invest in public education. After he was elected, he worked with Republican House Speaker Harold Brubaker to focus on excellence in teaching and raised teacher salaries up to the national average in just four years. That bipartisan investment paid off. In the 1990s our public student test scores rose more than any other state’s. North Carolina became known as “the education state.” As recently as 2008, North Carolina paid teachers better than half the nation.

Things can change quickly, especially if you’re not looking. Now, the brand that attracted us—“the education state”—sounds like a grim joke. After six years of no real raises, we have fallen to 46th in teacher pay. North Carolina teachers earn nearly $10,000 less than the national average. And if you look at trends over the past decade, we rank dead last: After adjusting for inflation, North Carolina lowered teacher salaries nearly 16 percent from 2002 to 2012, while other states had a median decline of 1 percent. A first-year teacher in North Carolina makes $30,800. Our school district lost a candidate to a district in Kentucky because its starting salary was close to $40,000. It takes North Carolina teachers more than 15 years to earn $40,000; in Virginia it may take only four. Gap store managers on average make about $56,000.

If you talk to a teacher in North Carolina, you will hear the bitter truth of how difficult it is for them to make ends meet. Most teachers at Ben’s school work at least one extra job. An elementary school teacher told me that his daughters do not have the chance to play soccer or cello like his students. He has no discretionary income left to spare.

What are we teaching our children about the value of education? When my boys see a teacher outside school, they rush up to say hello, eyes bright with admiration and respect. How I wish our children could minister to the adults in my state. While the majority of us remain quiet, North Carolina teachers face incessant reminders that they are not valued.

How did this happen? Both political parties share responsibility. When the recession began, the Democrats in power froze teacher pay. After years of salary stagnation, in 2013, Republicans made the following changes: Job security in the form of tenure was abolished. Extra pay for graduate degrees was eliminated. A new law created vouchers so that private academies could dip into the shrinking pool of money that the public schools have left. While requiring schools to adopt the Common Core standards, the legislature slashed materials budgets. According to the National Education Association, we fell to 48th in per-pupil expenditures. State funds for books were cut by about 80 percent, to allocate only $14.26 a year per student. Because you can’t buy even one textbook on that budget, teachers are creating their own materials at night after a long day of work. As if that weren’t enough, the legislature eliminated funding for 5,200 teachers and 3,850 teacher assistants even though the student population grew. North Carolina public schools would have to hire 29,300 people to get back up to the employee-per-student ratio the schools had in 2008. The result? Teachers have more students, no current books, and fewer professionals trained to address special needs, and their planning hours are gone now that they must cover lunch and recess. For public school teachers in North Carolina, the signals sent by this legislation are unambiguous: North Carolina does not value its teachers.

I cannot watch all this anymore and stay silent. So I’m acting out of character. At 8 a.m. one Friday last month, I went to a PTA meeting. I was nervous. It was my first time, which was embarrassing because my youngest is in fifth grade. As I walked in, another mom put me at ease. She said, “I hope it’s not too hot in there.” Under her fleece, she still had on her pajama top.

She came to hear about the “Pay our Teachers First” campaign I created with a middle school teacher. Our goals are to raise awareness and deliver a simple message to North Carolina representatives: Pass legislation to get teacher pay back up to the national average, or we will vote you out.

Some people tell me this fight is futile—that Chapel Hill is a tiny blue bubble in a big state gunning to destroy public education. Recent polls suggest they are wrong. A nonpartisan survey from October 2013 showed that 76 percent of North Carolinians agree that public school teachers are paid too little, 71 percent think we cannot keep the most qualified teachers with the current pay scale, and 83 percent support increased pay for higher degrees. I love these data. They prove that the recent legislative assault on teachers does not reflect true North Carolina values.

In November parents and teachers met in my home to listen to the teachers’ concerns and make a plan of action. We learned that, only a few months into the school year, our middle school had no more paper and printer ink and no funds to buy more. The next morning, parents brought them in. We are organizing volunteers to supervise lunch so our teachers will have a planning hour. I used to think “wearing red for public ed” on Wednesdays was silly. Now I understand that this quiet gesture shows we hear the demoralizing messages from Raleigh, and we disagree. A social studies teacher and I designed a red “Pay our Teachers First” T-shirt and a website to raise money and awareness. One chilly morning, parents and children held signs and cheered as teachers walked into work. A math teacher was so moved by this rare sign of recognition, she burst into tears. Our children made a film to encourage generous holiday donations. My neighbor Melinda set up a crowdfunding site to collect them. More than a hundred generous gifts came in so quickly, the Deposit a Gift site owner called to ask for our secret.

Meanwhile, booster campaigns and rumors of better pay do not stop teachers from leaving our schools. With every report of another talented teacher lured away from the profession or to another state by much better pay, I fear if we don’t act fast, our public schools will hemorrhage talent in the next year. In an anonymous survey of the middle school teachers at my son’s school, half said they are looking for other jobs.

There is so much more to do. We have to let our teachers know we have their backs. Although parents divide along so many lines—religious or secular, liberal or conservative, vegetarian or meat-eating, working in or outside the home—most of us deeply value our public schools. Together, we will test Margaret Mead’s belief “that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.” Our children face a powerful, well-financed threat. We must show them we are here to protect their future.

The views expressed in For Your Consideration are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of MeckEd.

Do you have a comment? Please post your response below:

About the Author:

Deborah R. Gerhardt is a professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law and the mother of three boys in public school.

 

 

Missing: A National Education Policy for Low Income Families

Wednesday, November 13th, 2013

This article by Arnold F. Fege appeared in the For Your Consideration section in our November 13th e-Newsletter and originally appeared in Education Week. For Your Consideration provides an open forum for individuals to voice their opinions on various public education issues.

Let’s face it. When it comes to the transformation of public education, families and students are at the bottom of the partnership feeding chain. And our poorest families often wield the least power and have little political or social capital. Arnold Fege

Their voice is hardly ever sought after, and their children attend the lowest-performing schools. Missing in action are the well-integrated national education policies that should assure these families that they have a voice at the reform table. The landscape for low-income parents, however, was not always this bleak.

As a young staffer for the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy of New York, I remember distinctly an exchange that the senator had with President Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration officials, when the original Elementary and Secondary Education Act was being debated in the Senate education committee in 1965. Sen. Kennedy peppered them with questions about why poor parents were not given more power to hold school districts accountable for the federal money they were receiving under the ESEA’s Title I. He contended that parents in the South Bronx should have the same clout over education decisions as the parents in Westchester County, an affluent community just north of New York City.

In promoting federal mechanisms that evened the playing field in the early years of the ESEA, Robert Kennedy saw the role of parents as one of mobilizing, organizing, and changing the power relationships to ensure that federal funding would be used to desegregate the schools as well as build demand for improved student performance. That discussion raised some of the first questions about the relationships between instructional quality, assessment data, and the use of that information by low-income parents to demand improved public schools—an issue we continue to grapple with today. In essence, the legislation dramatically changed the relationship that low-income parents had with school officials.

But there were many school districts that either resented the federal parent requirements or that were threatened by the increase in parent participation. They staged mass resistance against parent organizing and, during the 1980 ESEA reauthorization process, persuaded Congress to gut the core of the parent-involvement provisions. That significant shift sent a national message that administrator control was more important than collaboration or shared decisionmaking, and that parental involvement would now be voluntary and not protected by federal law.

Today, the rhetoric of family engagement has overshadowed any serious policymaking. We have shifted from an ESEA that was primarily community-based and into building relationships to one that is highly school- and test-based, and inhumanly technocratic. And while the U.S. Department of Education talks a good game, charter schools, teacher evaluation, and competitive grants like Race to the Top have trumped family engagement as national priorities. Curiously, instead of building on the new research that demonstrates the importance of linking families to school transformation, the Education Department has actually diminished family provisions. It eliminated statewide Parent Information and Resource Centers, failed to monitor the family provisions in the No Child Left Behind Act (the current version of the ESEA), and emasculated the parents’-right-to-know provision of NCLB, which endowed parents with the right to inquire about the qualifications of their children’s teachers. All of those are tools to support low-income families.

When asked at a National Press Club presentation last year how he would grade the Education Department’s family-engagement policies, Secretary Arne Duncan gave his agency a D. The department has not been a safe haven for low-income parents, and Congress and the Obama administration have largely been unable to incorporate the family evidence we have into the policies we need.

For many state and local leaders in family engagement, Congress and the Education Department have become irrelevant forces in helping to level the playing field in the balance of power and school-family collaboration, as well as in helping to build demand for schools that are responsive to the particular needs of low-income parents. This unfortunate void leaves low-income parents to fend for themselves and build from the ground up—school by school and district by district. And here is some advice: Don’t expect your federal government to help in this process. Parental choice, market models, and rhetoric do not substitute for family mobilization, advocacy, or organizing.

We know sound family policies work. They help grow district capacity, teacher and administrator professional development, community engagement, integration of services, funding, best practices, communications, and respect for voices and needs. When coordinated, these elements build a seamless link between school and family, increasing student success and performance.

If we give up on our families, we give up on our community. If we lose our community, we lose our democracy. If we lose our democracy, we lose the public. And if we lose the public, we lose public education. The stakes are too high for our national policymakers to ignore what makes sense.

The views expressed in For Your Consideration are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of MeckEd.

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About the Author:

Arnold F. Fege is president of the Washington-based Public Advocacy for Kids and a national advocate for parental and community engagement in education.

 

 

Schools Are Growing; Will County Respond?

Wednesday, October 30th, 2013

This article by the Editorial Board of The Charlotte Observer appeared in the For Your Consideration section in our October 30th e-Newsletter. For Your Consideration provides an open forum for individuals to voice their opinions on various public education issues.

Mecklenburg County voters should approve a $290 million bonds issue for Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools.

Observer

It’s a 17-project package with only one significant flaw – it doesn’t do nearly enough to help CMS chase the growth that continues to put demands on our school system’s infrastructure.

Voters also should give the nod to a more forward-thinking bonds proposal for Central Piedmont Community College. The $210 million package will help CPCC expand its footprint throughout the county, and it will increase science and technology space that’s critical to train students for jobs in emerging industries.

Voters, however, should have had an opportunity to vote on something different: A CMS bonds package robust enough to meet the needs of a large district that’s simultaneously growing and aging. CMS wanted that kind of package, and there’s a model for it just a few hours up the road.

Earlier this month, Wake County voters approved an $810 million bond issue that will allow the district to embark on one of the biggest school construction programs in the county’s history. The bonds package was the product of collaboration from a Republican-led county commission and Democratic-led school board, each of which recognized that it wasn’t wise for the county to close its eyes to the school district’s inevitable growth.

We appreciate that Mecklenburg commissioners are trying to be responsible here. Previous boards have issued large bonds without raising taxes – a sure path to unsustainable debt. Current commissioners are wisely avoiding that, and they’re also reluctant to ask voters for a tax increase, which will be the result of the bonds in Wake County.

But how did Wake County residents feel about that? They passed the bonds issue easily, with 58 percent of the vote. “It’s a great thing to invest in education,” said Joe Bryan, the Republican chairman of the Wake Board of Commissioners.

Mecklenburg’s bonds give a sampling of what that investment can provide. Along with projects underway from the 2007 bonds package (all of which has been assigned to projects, by the way) the 2013 bonds will provide more relief from overcrowding with three new schools. The projects also include enhancing career and technical education offerings at several high schools and creating new STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) magnet schools in east and south Charlotte.

CPCC’s bonds will help create space for two new CMS middle colleges on CPCC campuses – a replication of the popular Cato Middle College High program that allows CMS students to get a jump on college and job training.

The only vocal opposition to either bonds package has come from two suburban groups with a curious argument – that the county should focus on teacher pay before issuing CMS bonds. Of course our teachers should be paid better. Voting down these bonds won’t help with that.

For the same reason, voters shouldn’t protest the relative skimpiness of the bonds with a no vote. We’re not sure commissioners would get the right message about the school system, which is this: We’re growing – at a pace of more than 2,000 students a year. We’re overcrowded, especially in northern and southern Mecklenburg. We’re aging, with about 50 percent of our schools near 50 years old.

If we want our school system to thrive, we need to provide students and teachers the space, renovations and innovations that will help them succeed. Or we can fall further behind the growth we’re chasing.

The views expressed in For Your Consideration are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of MeckEd.

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MeckEd Supports the Bonds

Thursday, October 17th, 2013

This fall, Mecklenburg County voters will be asked to vote on two bond referenda totaling $500 million.

Bill Anderson

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has 18 projects in a $290 million package designed to relieve overcrowding; offer more academic choices for students; and renovate, replace and improve existing facilities. Central Piedmont Community College has identified ten projects totaling $210 million, that will continue to expand and modernize its facilities, provide technical training space and add instructional classrooms and labs. This fall, Mecklenburg County voters will be asked to vote on two bond referenda totaling $500 million. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has 18 projects in a $290 million package designed to relieve overcrowding; offer more academic choices for students; and renovate, replace and improve existing facilities. Central Piedmont Community College has identified ten projects totaling $210 million, that will continue to expand and modernize its facilities, provide technical training space and add instructional classrooms and labs.

MeckEd supports the bonds and we need you to get involved. Learn how you can endorse the bonds, volunteer, put up a yard sign, and spread the word by visiting the Vote Yes for Bonds website.