Blog Archive

MeckEd Supports Sales Tax Referendum

Monday, August 11th, 2014

MeckEd is committed to fair and competitive compensation for teachers across North Carolina and in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. While we applaud this year’s statewide teacher salary increase, there is more work to do. Given the increase in teacher turnover rates and the drop in North Carolina students entering colleges of education, it is imperative to invest in teacher salaries in every way possible. Bill Anderson

As a community, we must help CMS attract and retain the best educators to our classrooms. MeckEd’s 2014 Public Policy Agenda calls for raising the state’s average teacher salary to the national average, in order to better compete for top teaching talent.

MeckEd endorses the referendum to raise teacher salaries, and we encourage all Mecklenburg County residents to support this important investment in our educators on November 4th.

Legislative Update – June 11

Wednesday, June 11th, 2014

Now, it’s the House’s turn.

This week, the North Carolina House will debate its version of the state budget. Speaker Thom Tillis said he expects the House to approve a budget by week’s end, setting up negotiations next week for a compromise spending plan with the Senate. Adam Rhew

State Budget

The House version of the budget does not provide as generous teacher raises as the Senate version does. However, it also does not call for deep cuts to teaching assistants in order to pay for the salary increases.

Here are some key education-related highlights of the House budget:

  • Raise teacher salaries by an average of 5 percent. The budget calls for more than $100 million in new, anticipated lottery revenue to fund the salary increases.
  • No effect on existing teacher tenure. Unlike the Senate budget, this version does not require teachers to relinquish their tenure rights in order to accept a raise.
  • Eliminate the “25% Rule.” The House budget would get rid of the unpopular 25 percent teacher contract rule, adopted last year.

MeckEd is also monitoring updates on a number of other issues.

Common Core

Both the House and Senate have adopted bills that could lead to the elimination of the Common Core State Standards in North Carolina. The House version (H1061) explicitly calls for the replacement of the Common Core with new standards; the Senate version (S812) calls for a review of the existing curriculum and for recommendations to strengthen it. Both bills would create a new commission to examine the existing math and reading curricula, though the bills vary slightly on commission make-up and procedures. The body would be required to issue recommendations to the state school board, among other groups.

The legislature will attempt to merge these proposals into one compromise bill during the coming weeks.

Charter Schools

The legislature is still working on a bill that would change the oversight process for charter schools—though what the final measure looks like remains uncertain. The original bill (S793) would have, among other things, required all charter schools to comply with North Carolina’s public records and open meetings laws. Late last week, senators changed the bill to exempt charter schools from those transparency laws. Now, the bill has changed yet again—this time to require public disclosures. Charter schools are public schools that receive taxpayer dollars. Traditional public school systems, like CMS, are bound by the open meetings and public records laws.

Read to Achieve

Last week, we told you about a proposal (H230) that would tweak the requirements of the state’s Read to Achieve literacy law. The bill, which gives local school districts more flexibility to address struggling elementary-aged readers, cleared both chambers of the General Assembly. Gov. Pat McCrory signed it into law today.

Adam Rhew is MeckEd’s Director of Public Policy & Communications.

Legislative Update – June 3

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014

With the General Assembly session in full swing, MeckEd will provide regular updates to our supporters about critical issues facing public education. We hope this information will help you keep tabs on what’s happening in Raleigh, and how it affects our schools here at home. Adam Rhew

State Budget

The most pressing issue is the state budget. In the early morning hours Saturday, the North Carolina Senate gave preliminary approval to a $21.2 billion budget. The spending plan includes nearly half a billion dollars for teacher raises—but makes cuts elsewhere in public education to pay for them.

The Senate budget bill (S744), which now heads to the House for consideration, increases overall K-12 public school funding by $66.5 million.

Among the budget highlights related to education:

  • $465M funding increase for teacher salaries in return for relinquishing tenure rights. The adjustments yield an average $5,800 annual pay raise, an average increase of 11 percent.
  • A reduction of $233M for teaching assistants, thus funding TAs for kindergarten and first grade classes only.
  • Cutting $46M for classroom teachers by rescinding a provision in last year’s budget to improve teacher-student ratios in elementary schools.
  • Increasing funding for non-instructional employees by $32.6M, which equals a $618 increase in salary and benefits.
  • Adding $18.7 million to extend supplemental pay for teachers with master’s degrees to those who have completed at least one graduate program course by July 1, 2013.
  • Providing $5 million in nonrecurring funds for an additional 1,000 NC Pre-K slots.


We are very glad elected officials at all levels agree that our teachers deserve to be compensated more than they currently are. And, although Gov. McCrory’s proposed budget doesn’t go as far on raises as the Senate budget, it also doesn’t make deep cuts to public education, particularly teaching assistants who are vital to our critical need for literacy education. We urge the General Assembly to adopt a budget that better compensates teachers and leaves them with the resources they need in the classroom.

For tips on advocating for teachers and public education, make sure to check out MeckEd’s advocacy toolkit.

Beyond the budget, there are a number of other interesting measures moving through the legislative process. We’ve chosen to highlight three here, and will keep you updated on other items as they develop.

Common Core

This morning, the House Education Committee advanced a bill (H1061) that would start a process to replace Common Core standards in North Carolina classrooms. The committee voted 27-16 in favor of the measure, which directs state officials to begin studying new achievement standards. Gov. McCrory and business groups, including the Charlotte Chamber, have endorsed keeping the Common Core standards. The bill still needs approval from the House Appropriations Committee before moving on to the House floor. Read more about the debate surrounding this proposal from WRAL-TV.

Read to Achieve

The House and Senate are moving closer to agreement on a measure (H230) that tweaks the early literacy law passed in 2013 known as Read to Achieve. The bill, co-sponsored by Mecklenburg Rep. Ruth Samuelson, makes a number of modifications to the existing law to give local school divisions more flexibility in administering reading evaluations and administering summer remediation camps.

Calendar Flexibility

Mecklenburg Sen. Jeff Tarte is sponsoring legislation, supported by CMS, that would give local school districts more flexibility surrounding end-of-year testing calendars. His bill (S860) extends the testing window from five days to 15 days, allowing schools more time to schedule exams.

Adam Rhew is MeckEd’s Director of Public Policy & Communications.

Governor’s Teacher Compensation Plan a Start

Wednesday, May 14th, 2014

This article by Dr. Bill Anderson appeared in the For Your Consideration section in our May 14, 2014 e-Newsletter and originally appeared in Creative Loafing. For Your Consideration provides an open forum for individuals to voice their opinions on various public education issues.

As he rolled out a new, multi-phase teacher pay plan last week, Gov. McCrory said the existing compensation model “is old, it’s outdated, and it doesn’t frankly work for the 21st century.”

The governor is absolutely correct. By most measures, North Carolina has fallen behind our neighboring states when it comes to education funding. We lag our peer states on everything from starting teacher salary to average teacher salary to per-pupil expenditure. North Carolina ranks last among the states in teacher salary growth from 2002-03 to 2012-13. Bill Anderson

For those of us advocating for a teacher pay raise, the governor’s plan is a meaningful step in the right direction.

It begins to address the immediate concern – losing our best teachers to other states and other professions – and the long-term, complicated issue of how North Carolina pays educators.

MeckEd is asking our state lawmakers to help stem the tide of teachers leaving the profession – or worse yet, leaving North Carolina for teaching jobs in Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee or Virginia. The fact that these states pay a teacher an average of $3,635 more per year is among the reasons why young people are turning away from the teaching profession in alarming numbers. Enrollment at UNC Charlotte’s college of education is down 40 percent from a year ago. This number should serve as a wake up call to all of us about the impending teacher shortage.

The governor’s plan, which calls for 2 percent raises for all teachers this year, attempts to right that trend.

We should note that this proposal is just that – a plan. It still needs support from the General Assembly. And that’s where the first major question comes: How will North Carolina pay for these solutions? The state budget office recently forecast a revenue shortfall of $445 million for this fiscal year, a reality some lawmakers say makes it difficult to support teacher raises during the legislative session that starts May 14.

And it’s still unclear how, exactly, the state will pay for the long-term structural overhaul of the teacher compensation process. It also remains to be seen how we will choose to evaluate our teachers’ performance as part of a new system.

These are all questions our legislature will need to answer as the plan moves forward. But it is critical we act.

Parents, teachers and members of the business community must let our representatives know how important these investments are to our state’s long-term success.

They should also thank the governor for his promise to reach out to school superintendents for advice. That CMS Superintendent Heath Morrison and his colleagues from other urban districts were willing to stand alongside the governor at his press conference speaks volumes.

Our elected officials should trust these school leaders to provide a critical “boots on the ground” perspective as the governor’s plan is fully developed. McCrory should be applauded for his willingness to let local school districts shape a compensation plan on the front end, rather than reacting to a program after its become law.

Would we like to see our teachers paid at the national average, as they were before the recession? Absolutely. But we are encouraged by this initial effort.

Budgets reflect a state’s priorities. Adjusting North Carolina’s spending plan to invest in our teachers – and, ultimately, our next generation – is a priority we all should support.

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

About the Author:

Bill Anderson is executive director of MeckEd. He is a former high school teacher and principal.



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.