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North Carolina, my adopted state, has passed a budget that deprofessionalizes teachers (eliminating tenure, establishing 'pay for excellence,' removing stepped increases for experience and advanced degrees), outright removes 4,000 teachers and nearly 4,000 TAs from the workforce, raises tuition at our public universities, cuts money to public schools directly, and then cuts it again by allowing some 1,400 kids to move $4,500 each from the public coffers and spend it on private school tuition. All this while establishing a flat-tax and giving tax-breaks to big business.

I have to admit that I thought we'd be talking about Kansas, Florida or Texas.
For reform-minded Democrats, this should be a wake-up call. The situation in North Carolina is the logical outcome of the policies you promote. It is not an accident, an unintended consequence of the accountability fetish or an unexpected result of 'putting students first.' The destruction of the teaching profession and the dismantling of public schools in North Carolina is exactly what the reformers (or at least the money and power behind them) have been pushing for for thirty years.

It started with A Nation at Risk, a quite long-winded diatribe against public schools that used flawed math (SAT scores have dropped 50 points!) to arrive at its prescription. Essentially what it did is ignore the fact that, in the 1960s and 70s, relatively few people took college entrance exams or the SAT. It further ignored that the people who did tended to be in the top quintile. By 1980, more people took the tests and the scores fell. The dirty secret, though, is that scores fell simply because more people took the test and the extra people tended to be in the second and third quintile (it's hard to add more people in the top 20% when they were already taking it). Of course the scores went down. It wasn't bad teaching or bad policy. It was math.

Never mind that, even then, a 50 point drop is within the float from one administration of the test to another (equivalent of 2.5% or the difference between a 97.5 and a 95), that didn't stop David Pierpoint Gardner and TH Bell from proposing some things that probably sound familiar:

  • A single, national curriculum based on 'more rigorous and measurable standards'
  • The use of standardized tests to determine promotion from one level of schooling to another
  • Making teacher pay 'market sensitive' and 'performance based'
  • Eliminating tenure and other protections
  • and so on...

It should sound familiar because these are exactly the things that Secretary Duncan and President Obama promote with the ill-named 'Race to the Top.' And now they're getting their way. Democrats should be ashamed to support 'reforms' like this, but the furor over the reauthorization of ESEA has nearly every elected Democrat suddenly all in favor of the one-size-fits-all standardized testing regime of No Child Left Behind and the over-hyped and thoroughly misnamed 'Common Core Standards' (They are neither core to education nor represent educational standards. They are, however, quite common.) What's happening in NC isn't just the national debate in miniature, it's the expected and (by some) hoped-for outcome of education reform policy.

This is why having hope is so difficult.

Yes, the two main professional organizations for teachers in the state are fighting this budget, but there is a limit to what effect phone calls and emails have on Republican legislators convinced of their own moral superiority. Yes, teachers will doubtless flock to the last Moral Monday in a few days and be arrested for the crime of having a voice. Yes, there will be lawsuits. And, yes, there will eventually be the chance to vote these clowns out of office.

But there are two problems: first, remedies might not come soon enough to preserve the livelihoods of our teachers, and, second, we cannot ignore that what is going on in North Carolina now with eliminating tenure, 'holding teachers accountable,' promoting charter and private schools, and turning our schools into nothing more than jobs training programs is the direct outcome of our national education policy. This is exactly what NCLB was meant to do. This is precisely what the competitive grants in  Race to the Top were designed to do.

And whatever else that means, it means that a victory today with a gubernatorial veto (not highly likely) or an injunction tomorrow will be a hollow and temporary one so long as the Democratic Party buys into the corporatist tripe about standards and accountability. To rescue education in North Carolina, we must first rescue educational policy on the national stage.

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Comment Preferences

  •  NC's history of private schools (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ahumbleopinion, bkamr, hnichols, quill

    Another contributing factor, I'd say, is North Carolina's long history of undermining public schools in favor of private ones, driven by segregation and driving segregation.

    Thanks for contributing your perspective.

    Most models are wrong, but some are useful.

    by etbnc on Thu Jul 25, 2013 at 06:25:24 AM PDT

  •  Rahm is doing the same thing in Chicago (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    PhilK, gustynpip, hnichols, quill

    Replacing education with training is a bipartisan policy.

    We are moving rapidly towards feudalism, where your future is determined by what your parents and their parents did.

    look for my eSci diary series Thursday evening.

    by FishOutofWater on Thu Jul 25, 2013 at 06:35:16 AM PDT

  •  I Can't Think of a Power Block In Society That (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    PhilK, gustynpip, etbnc, hnichols

    wants to continue public education. I don't see how it survives.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Thu Jul 25, 2013 at 06:37:30 AM PDT

  •  Here's the NCAE response... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bkamr, hnichols

    to its 65,000 members

    Let's show our legislators what Citizens United really means.

    by TriangleNC on Thu Jul 25, 2013 at 07:06:58 AM PDT

  •  Here's a blog by students at Davidson College in (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    gustynpip, bkamr, hnichols, quill

    NC-- they're thinking critically about the situation and it gives me hope to remember that there are smart, good young people trying to fight this into the future through instruments like blogs, and their own NC liberal arts educations:

    That's one more thing to add to my long list of small problems. --my son, age 10

    by concernedamerican on Thu Jul 25, 2013 at 07:10:16 AM PDT

    •  Thanks for the link (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      hnichols, quill

      One of the most tragic aspects of this is that teachers themselves have so little say in the debate. Most of our educational 'leaders' have very little, if any, classroom experience. Actions like eliminating tenure, which gives teachers due process and not a 'job for life' like some would want us to think, is really only there to make educators fear for their jobs. Why else take away due process?

      There comes a point, however, when there is indeed nothing left to lose. Right now we see the teachers that can are retiring early and looking to other states, but there are fewer and fewer islands of sanity out there. What about those that are mid-career with spouses and families that can neither leave nor retire? What about the young professionals who have just been told their shiny new degrees (like mine) are now worthless?

      Reformers have spent thirty years poking the bear. Either the bear is already dead or it will awake...

  •  This is what happens when (0+ / 0-)

    everything is measured by the yard stick of capitalism. Only the owners of capitalism benefit; everything else is a replaceable cog.

    I'm living in America, and in America you're on your own. America's not a country. It's just a business.

    by CFAmick on Thu Jul 25, 2013 at 09:33:46 AM PDT

  •  My son (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    began his college career with the idea of becoming a music teacher/band director.  And while I say this with no small degree of parental pride, objectively he would have been an excellent one.  But during his training, as he noted the path of education in general and arts education in particular, he changed his major and abandoned the idea of the classroom.  And while I'm sad for the students who will never know what they're missing, I understand his decision.

    I am convinced that the fate of public education is sealed by one simple truth: An educated electorate does not serve the interests of those in power.

    This probably explains "reality TV" as well.

    I'll believe corporations are people when one comes home from Afghanistan in a body bag.

    by mojo11 on Thu Jul 25, 2013 at 12:58:58 PM PDT

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