Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Little Downer

have to say that this post is definitely not one of my bubbly, super excited, happy posts. Not to be a Debbie-Downer, but there are some things that need to be addressed before a vote happens. The NC General Assembly is voting on a major change for North Carolina education and teachers. In the new proposed budget cuts (Yes! More budget cuts...what could they possibly be cutting from the education system that has not been cut yet is my thoughts?) there are many aspects that I, along with many other teachers, educators, and even politicians, are not too thrilled about. 

The General Assembly
I first heard of the budget cuts because my good friend, colleague, and bridesmaid Candace, told me that our Masters Degree through Appalachian State University may not be acknowledge through a pay increase by the time we complete our courses. Currently, teachers in North Carolina only see a pay increase (minus the teeny-tiny increase last year) through a Masters Degree or National Board Certification. Candace and I are scheduled to complete our degree in August 2014. However, with the new cuts, Candace told me that if we are not currently getting paid for our Masters at the start of the 2014-2015 school year, we will not receive the pay from that point forward. Therefore, Candace and I.... we are out of luck. Needless to say, I felt that it was my obligation to email some Senators and Representatives regarding my thoughts and opinions. 
Candace and I 
I sent my first email and heard back from four of the twenty-five individuals I emailed. I can start by saying that I was slightly frustrated with that. Can’t a secretary at least email me back for you? I mean, at least acknowledge that you saw, maybe even possibly read the email? (Read receipts on emails are awesome by the way!) A couple of the replied emails were simply "Your opinion matters," but there was one that was very supportive and very concerned about the passing of the budgets also. Representative Tricia Cotham was wonderful! She was so supportive, so helpful, and made me feel as though teachers had a support crew in the Assembly in Raleigh. Then there was an email from Senator Phil Berger. That one was definitely not the email response I was hoping for. 

That particular email mentioned that Medicaid had eaten much of the Senate budget. Not to mention, there was $1.2 billion dollars that needed to cover unexpected costs in Medicaid. Therefore this "diverts money away from state priorities like education." (If it is a priority, shouldn't that mean it comes first? I’m slightly confused on that.) The email did mention that Senate Republicans got teachers their first raise is nearly five years for 2012-2013! (Whoo-hoo a whopping 1%) The email then told me that North Carolina was looking to switch to a “Pay for Excellence” program. I believe this is sugar-coating words for “Performance Pay.” This opened a new can of worms in the Stadler household. There are multiple issues that I have with performance pay; I would definitely say more issues there than with not paying for a Masters Degree!

Here are my issues with “Performance Pay.” First this pay is typically made through student performance on a standardized test. So technically…that’s not really even paying the teachers on their performance right? It is paying teachers based on students’ performance. But here are my issues:

1. Studies have shown that performance pay encourages competition among teachers rather than collaboration. This is contradictory to our current goal of increased collaboration through Professional Learning Communities. I worry that this increased competition would also lead to incidents like that of Atlanta Public Schools from 2005 – 2009. (That was a mess!) Teachers and administrators were cheating on their tests. They were changing answers on students’ tests in order to boost their overall scores. Wouldn't performance pay encourage the same? I mean teachers are basing their salaries on that of the students in their classroom.

2. With performance based pay there is also research that shows the students’ attitude on any given day could alter test performance. If performance pay, or pay for excellence, is based on standardized test scores, students could face multiple scenarios the day before or day of the test that is being analyzed. For example: I have had multiple students loose a pet during the school year. What if that happens the day before the test? What if parents are going through a divorce during testing days? What if a student does not take their ADD or ADHD medicine the morning of the test? The situations are endless. Students face numerous challenges throughout the school year, and even test days; these could drastically affect student performance on the tests they take. Research shows that this system will also discourage teachers from teaching certain students in certain areas. How is it fair to compare the teachers of high income schools to those of lower income schools? How is it fair to judge teachers who have drastically different materials and resources to use to teach their students? Not paying attention to these students and their situations contradicts our current act of “No Child Left Behind.”

3. How is the performance of teachers going to be assessed? Would this pay come from single standardized test performance scores? Our current “standardized tests in schools were not designed as teacher assessment tools and aren't valid measures” for teacher performance. Would this system be based on the overall growth of a student during a single year? If this is the case, I am curious if the pay would fluctuate. If a teacher “performs” highly one year and gets a pay increase, but the following year they do not “perform” as highly, would their pay decrease? (I believe that is another can of worms not worth opening!)

4. Finally, I was taught in college, through Belmont Abbey College, not to teach to a test. However, with pay for excellence, or performance pay, wouldn't that system be encouraging it? Wouldn't this system encourage teachers to repeatedly teach towards a standardized test that they know their students’ performance on would determine their pay for the year? I believe if we switch to pay for excellence, or pay for performance, not only are we cheating our own college education, but we are cheating the most important individuals in our classrooms today. With this pay system students are losing their opportunity at a well-rounded education from their teachers.

With all that being said, I believe I will get off my soap-box now (at least on my blog!). However, I do feel that it is critical that our Senators and Representatives hear our concerns. I emailed back approximately ten of the individuals I originally emailed with my latest email regarding performance pay…needless to say….I have heard back from zero. A little discouraging yes, but that’s not going to stop me. I anticipate continuing to email and continuing to get my voice and opinions out there. How else are the people in Raleigh going to know how the teachers feel throughout the state? I encourage everyone to write a few emails and tell their sides. Check out the the Senate here with email addresses and names, the House here with emails and names, check out my emails here, and even check out a few websites that helped me prepare all this wonderful information: The Heart of a Teacher, Missouri Edu Research, and The Washington Post. 

I promise my next post will be back to the happy, bubbly, I love being teacher regular posts :)

I do start the NCWriting Project next week, only 7 days away, but who’s counting? Until next time :)

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