I read fellow teacher Terry McCann’s guest editorial with great interest but ultimately disappointment.
I must state up front that like thousands of public school teachers, students, parents, and our supporters whom I will join in Raleigh on Wednesday, I respect and value Mr. McCann’s voice. Despite differences, our profession challenges people to grow from where they are into some greater understanding, and we can’t do that without willingly hearing others’ perspectives.
I will give Mr. McCann’s student a pass for thinking teacher pay is our first priority. It’s not. It is, however, the narrative some put forth to portray us as selfish. No one goes into teaching to get rich. We go into it to care for and to serve our students.
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I’d personally rank per pupil expenditure as the most important goal. Our students deserve more. As a classroom veteran of 22 years, I can relate to Mr. McCann’s old-school preference for good ol’ paper and pencil, but it is disingenuous to portray that as anything more than a personal – and perhaps nostalgic – preference. It is undeniable that students need access to all the modern technology possible. It is undeniable that field trips and lab experiments and literature and textbooks and vocational classes and the arts and social workers and school nurses and smaller class sizes make a huge difference for our students, and those things require funding.
A challenge to public schools Mr. McCann did not mention is the aggressive expansion of charter schools. Since the N.C. General Assembly (NCGA) removed the cap of 100 charter schools statewide in 2011, for-profit charter schools have more than tripled, their number reaching 27 for the 2016-17 school year. When education is a business, eventually students are sacrificed for the sake of the bottom line.
Charter schools do not have the same mandates public schools do under federal law. They are not required to provide transportation or lunch services, so lower-income students whose families struggle to provide consistent transportation and home-packed lunches are largely excluded. They are not required under federal law to provide services for students with special needs (Exceptional Children, or EC).
Some charters do provide these services, and many provide high quality instruction in a nurturing environment. Some charter schools – like Durham’s Central Park School for Children – are tremendous allies with public schools, and will stand with us in solidarity on May 16. Charter schools’ presence or absence on May 16 will show whether they stand with public schools in wanting what is best for all of our children, or whether they view education as a money-making endeavor where public schools are competition. The continuing expansion of charter schools is reckless and short-sighted.
In an ideal world, parents and community members could fully supplement our classroom needs. Each charter school that opens syphons more funding away from public schools. The exclusion of lower-income students from so many charter schools has changed the demographics of public schools. The income level of the average public school student has dropped tremendously. Our EC population has exploded while the funds to support them are instead going to charter schools that don’t have to support them. Increasingly, our public school families do not have the personal resources to make classroom donations.
A vicious circle
For Mr. McCann to characterize public schools as failing regardless of funding without addressing these increased challenges is negligent. It creates a vicious circle so obvious it is challenging not to think it is intentional, where lower funding leads to lower test scores, which lead to more charter schools, which lead back to lower funding.
Moving from disingenuous past negligence to audacious is Mr. McCann’s claim about the average teacher’s salary and its ability to support a family of nine. I feel certain he is using the $50,000 figure the General Assembly is fond of claiming as the average teacher salary.By the state salary schedule, a certified teacher with master’s pay does not crack $50K until their 16th year of teaching. (It’s public record. You can look it up.) I’ll leave it to others to decide what they think of Mr. McCann’s claim that $50K is twice what is necessary to sustain a family of four.
If Mr. McCann has taught through a single cold and flu season, he knows very well the result of a sick student or colleague “toughing it out” and showing up anyway, only to get others sick. I know how hard it is to give up any day with my students. I want to be there for them. I love them. Being there for our students tomorrow and the day after that and the days and years after that, however, sometimes means we have to take today.
We have to take today. We have to take today so we can give tomorrow to our kids. The day I’ll be taking for our kids is Wednesday, May 16, in Raleigh.
Eli Seed teaches English at the School of Creative Studies in Durham.