Teachers in North Carolina schools are among the lowest-paid in the nation, and state and local officials say that’s having a crippling effect on the quality of education in the state.
Governor Pat McCrory recently unveiled a plan to increase teacher pay, but school leaders say it’s not enough – and this week, State Representative Graig Meyer told WCHL that morale among teachers is lower now than he’s ever seen it in his career in public education.
Friday on the Afternoon News, WCHL will host a special forum on the teacher-salary issue. Aaron Keck will be joined by Arasi Adkins, the executive director of human resources at Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools; Mary Gunderson, the district’s coordinator of teacher recruitment and support; and Christoph Stutts, a teacher at Carrboro High.
The forum will begin at 4:06 p.m. Tweet us your questions and comments @WCHL and we’ll address them in the discussion.http://chapelboro.com/news/pre-k-12-education/wchl-host-teacher-pay-forum-friday/
As an engineer, I have had a lot of math education in my life, everything from multiplication tables to systems of partial differential equations. I was quite successful in these classes due in part to the good fortune of innate ability, but also, I firmly believe, because for every class I had a textbook of my own filled with helpful explanations and examples.
I frequently tutor my children and my friends’ children in math and have being doing so for years. As such, I believe I have sufficient data to make a few valid conclusions. I have no doubt that having a textbook increases understanding and improves performance for every student, irrespective of ability. The value of a textbook is amplified for students who either do not have an adult or older sibling at home to help out or (and this is a big one) do not have the fine motor skills required to transcribe a large volume of detailed notes during class. If my observations are correct, then there is an easy solution to improving math scores in North Carolina: buy more textbooks.
Consider Chapel Hill – Carrboro City Schools, the best funded and highest performing school district in North Carolina. To be diplomatic, our supply of math textbooks is deplorably bad. My children have been provided with their own textbook at most 50% of the time. Sometimes the teacher may have 30 of them, enough to allow the students to refer to them in class, but not to bring one home at night. Since home is where homework happens, this is where reference and examples from the textbooks are most needed. When these situations occur for my children, I find out what textbook is being used in class and then order a used one on amazon.com, often for as little as $5.00. I am certain that buying these books improves my children’s grades and standardized test scores. As such, my actions and expenditures are contributing to the stubbornly persistent achievement gap between students from homes with higher and lower socio-economic statuses.
If we are not providing textbooks to students here in Chapel Hill and Carrboro, I can only imagine the sad state of affairs in school districts with even lower levels of per-student funding. The North Carolina General Assembly is currently making the situation even worse. State funding for textbooks has dropped from $67.15 per student in 2008 to $14.26 per student in 2013. Several times now, I have attempted a cogent sentence to close out this paragraph on the absurdity of this. Words have failed me, so I will simply let the numbers speak for themselves.
I have often heard those opposed to more funding for education, be it textbooks or salaries for our hard-working teachers, claim that we “just can’t afford it.” Let’s evaluate that statement and let’s do it with math. I submit that the best measure of the prosperity of our state, or any state for that matter, is gross domestic product (GDP) per capita. The graph below shows the North Carolina per capita GDP from 1977 to 2011 in constant 2005 dollars. The reason for using constant 2005 dollars is to eliminate the effect of inflation, making this an accurate measure of the growth of the wealth of our state.
Since 1977, inflation-adjusted per capita GDP has almost doubled from $22,000 to just over $40,000 per person. Good work, everyone.
This is an impressive achievement and ranks North Carolina 31st among the states with a per capita GDP in 2012 dollars of $42,884. Of the states commonly referred to as “The South,” only Virginia, with its concentrated wealth near Washington, DC, and Louisiana, with revenues from the oil industry, have higher per capita GDPs than the Tar Heel state. The generally accepted driving force behind our relative prosperity in the region has been a commitment to education, a commitment which is slipping away.
Despite being ranked 31st in per capita GDP, with total annual expenditures of $8,312 per student, North Carolina ranks 46th in per student education funding. Mathematically speaking, these numbers indicate that we are choosing to allocate a lower-than-average amount of our resources to education compared to other states. Consider Alabama: at $36,333, they rank 46th among the states in per capita GDP, yet they devote $8,813 per student for education, $500 more per every student than we do!
Let’s calculate what spending per pupil in North Carolina would be if it were at the same ratio to GDP as in Alabama. In this case, education spending in North Carolina would be:
$8,312*($42,884/$36,333) = $9,811 per student.
This would move North Carolina into an effective three-way tie with Iowa and Oregon for 26th place, just behind Montana.
I can find no way to look at these numbers that suggests that we don’t have the resources to buy more textbooks. This is especially true for math. Since calculus doesn’t change, the same books can be used for many years, which helps to lower the cost per student through reuse. So the next time someone tells you that we “just can’t afford” more education funding, please send them a link to this column.
Have a comment or question? Use the interface below or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org://chapelboro.com/columns/common-science/can-afford-math-textbooks/
The year 2014 is going to mean big changes for at least one prominent local nonprofit—starting in January with a new office.
“We’re finalizing the last steps…(and) we’re hoping to be fully open to the public on January 6,” says Natalia Lenis, community specialist and office coordinator for El Centro Hispano—one of the largest organizations in town dedicated to serving Chapel Hill-Carrboro’s growing Latino community.
El Centro is moving closer to downtown Carrboro, from Carrboro Plaza to 201 West Weaver Street. President and CEO Pilar Rocha-Goldberg says the move will make the office easier to reach—and it will also enable El Centro to expand its already-wide array of services.
“Basically what we do is try to integrate the Latino community to the community at large,” she says. “And we do it through education, health, community organizing, and direct support services.”
Among other things, El Centro is planning to host a bilingual summer camp in 2014—and Rocha-Goldberg says they’re also hoping to expand their education and tutoring programs with a new computer lab as well.
It’s all with the aim of helping first- and second-generation Latinos integrate into the larger community, find jobs and access needed services—issues that Lenis says all revolve around language.
“If I don’t speak the language, how am I going to find out what services are available to me?” Lenis says. “Sometimes even going to school or trying to be in touch with (their kids’) teachers is really hard for them. So everything goes around language.”
That language barrier (often coupled with a lack of documentation) also contributes to what Rocha-Goldberg identifies as a critical problem for the Latino community, particularly among day laborers: namely, employers who take advantage of their employees.
“They call them to work but then they don’t pay them,” Rocha-Goldberg says. “So we have…a lot of issues with that.”
Rocha-Goldberg says a new worker’s center, also slated for this year, should help address that issue.
El Centro Hispano has two offices in Carrboro and Durham, with a staff of 20 employees who work with about 10,000 people—including 2,000 in Chapel Hill-Carrboro. It offers most of its services free of charge.http://chapelboro.com/news/non-profit-news/new-office-new-services-2014-el-centro/
CHAPEL HILL- Chapel Hill-Carrboro teachers, administrators and school board members aren’t happy about the loss of job protection rules for educators. Nonetheless, school officials are drafting a plan to comply with new state laws that end teacher tenure.
Chuck Hennessee, a Culbreth teacher and president of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Association of Educators, addressed the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools board last week.
“You all know there are so many inherent things wrong with this law,” said Hennessee. “It’s built on the premise that only 25 percent of our teachers would deserve a contract, when we know that in this district, 94 percent of our teachers are proficient or above. It’s an insult to us as teachers.”
Starting next August, teachers with more than four years of experience can no longer be awarded career status, and those with career status will lose it by 2018. Instead, schools will offer most teachers one-year renewable contracts.
But school districts across the state are also tasked with identifying the top 25 percent of educators and offering them four-year contracts with annual raises of $500.
Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Human Resources Executive Director Arasi Adkins told the school board that unofficial polling among local teachers revealed little interest in the plan. So far, only 77 teachers have indicated they’d accept the four-year contract if offered.
Regardless of how many choose to sign the contracts, the district must make the offer to 200 teachers by next June.
School board member Annetta Streater called the plan “laughable.”
“So all we have to do is offer documentation to some authority that ‘here’s who we offered it to’ and half of them decline, then it’s done?” asked Streater. “What is the point of this?”
Although the contracts come with bonus money, the General Assembly has not allocated funding for those bonuses for future years. The board agreed that the district can’t afford to pick up the tab if state funding falls through.
“I feel strongly that we cannot promise to have this money, so it needs to be contingent on the state funding in the contract,” said Board Chair Jamezetta Bedford.
Administrators and school board members questioned the wisdom of the changes approved by the legislature as part of the budget bill this summer.
Adkins said the state requires the district to use a teacher evaluation tool to assess proficiency, but she and others stressed the evaluation is being misapplied.
“It’s a tool for teacher growth,” said Adkins. “It was never meant to compare teachers to each other.”
Teachers who fail to qualify as proficient are subject to dismissal. Supporters say the new rules will make it easier for school systems to dismiss under-performing teachers, but opponents worry it will drive more educators out-of-state or into other fields.
The North Carolina Association of Educators has already filed a lawsuit challenging the law. East Chapel Hill High School history teacher Brian Link is among the plaintiffs. He says the option of career status for teachers was one of the factors that drew him to move to North Carolina four years ago.
Teachers in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro district have until March 1 to put their names in for consideration for a four-year contract. The signing deadline is June 30, 2014.http://chapelboro.com/news/pre-k-12-education/chccs-loss-teacher-tenure/
CHAPEL HILL- Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools recruited a record number of minority teachers this year, but administrators worry some are being singled-out unfairly.
The Human Resources department of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School system is celebrating its recent accomplishments this year, including recruiting a record-breaking 260 teachers to staff the new Northside Elementary and the Frank Porter Graham bilingual magnet.
Teacher Recruitment Coordinator Mary Gunderson told the school board last week that total includes 51 minority teachers.
“We have the largest number ever of teachers of color hired for the district at 51,” said Gunderson. “That’s definitely a record-breaking number. We’re very, very happy about that.”
In 2012, African-American, Asian and Latino students made up 47 percent of the student body in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school system. School officials have long sought to increase diversity in the classroom by hiring teachers who reflect the make-up of the wider community.
But administrators say they’ve heard of a disturbing trend that’s making some minority teachers in the district feel less welcome.
“The teachers of color felt that they were being treated differently, negatively, than non-teachers-of-color,” said Human Resources Executive Director Arasi Adkins. “This was particularly true of new teachers, who, as we mentioned, we worked so hard to recruit in the first place.”
Adkins said some minority teachers she talked to felt a handful of parents were putting them under a microscope.
“In many cases the overwhelming majority cited a small number of prominent parents- in some cases it was just one or two parents- who were negatively targeting them in subtle ways,” Adkins told the school board. “For example, questioning their credentials or nit-picking teaching strategy, teaching style, et cetera. [There were] complaints filed with the administration without talking to the teacher first.”
Though she noted that many new teachers struggle with similar problems, Adkins said minority teachers in particular seemed to be singled out for criticism. In the past year, Adkins told the board she’s received three requests to document teacher credentials, each time for an African-American educator.
That’s triple the number of credential requests she received in the four years she worked for the Alamance-Burlington school system, a district twice the size of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro system.
“Our teachers of color are subjected to more scrutiny than non-teachers-of-color, and that’s simply not fair, not just and not right,” said Adkins.
To combat this trend, administrators have launched a support group for minority teachers in the district and are collaborating with a variety of professional organizations for educators.
Adkins says it’s also important for the entire community to recognize the problem.
“We’re going to enlist the support of our great parents who recognize the signs of inequity, to work to drown out the small number of voices who are determined to target teachers and administrators of color,”said Adkins. “I want to highlight that, because it really is a small number of people. [For] the overwhelming majority of our parents and community members, this is probably alarming and disturbing to them too.”
This comes to light at a time when the district is already struggling with a rising number of teachers leaving the district. The teacher turnover rate in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school system has increased to 14.47 percent this year- the highest it has been in nearly a decade.
Adkins cited North Carolina’s low teacher salaries as a prime reason that many educators leave for jobs in other states or other professions. Currently, the state ranks 46 in the nation for teacher pay.http://chapelboro.com/news/pre-k-12-education/chccs-minority-teachers-subject-unfair-scrutiny/
CHAPEL HILL – North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory says the State’s public universities are not training their students to be able to get a job out of college.
“I believe deeply that places like Carolina—Carolina amongst the best in the nation does that extremely well,” UNC Chancellor Carol Folt said in a WCHL News Special with Jim Heavner.
***Listen to Part IV of WCHL’s News Special with the Chancellor***
Gov. McCrory said he doesn’t want to see the government funding degrees like gender studies that he believes will not get someone a job. (Source: N&O – click here)
However, Chancellor Folt’s message in her early days at UNC has been to not only give the students a wide range of knowledge, but a deep understanding of that knowledge.
“Each one of them has a major—sometimes two majors—that have detailed skills taking them all the way to the forefront of knowledge in that area,” Chancellor Folt said. “And these skills are deeply transferrable.”
And, she said she doesn’t just want to focus on today.
“The skills we want for the future are the skills for students that can prepare themselves, not for the jobs that are sitting there today, but for the jobs and creating the jobs of tomorrow,” Chancellor Folt said. “If you think about digital world, the jobs that our students are getting now didn’t even exist ten of 15 years ago.”
She said Carolina is not struggling with getting students into jobs immediately following college.
“Eighty-five percent of the students that graduate from Carolina within the first year have full-time jobs or are in graduate school,” Chancellor Folt said. “It’s up there at the levels of the highest of our elites; we’ll continue to press forward on that. And I feel proud of what they’re doing post-graduation, and I think they’re going to be the people that are helping to bring new economies into the state.”
You can hear the interview in its entirety on WCHL Saturday at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday at 1:00 p.m.
To read the other articles in this WCHL News Special series with the Chancellor, navigate below.
CHAPEL HILL- Thursday’s release of the state Common Core Standard test results shows areas in which Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools need improvement, but officials say that’s due in part to the fundamental nature of the curriculum changes.
“The demands on students are changing. There’s a lot more writing, there’s a lot more deep reading of the text, so it is not this sort of superficial ‘glean a few things and keep moving,’” says Chapel Hill-Carrboro’s Executive Director of Testing and Program Evaluation, Diane Villwock. She says the new standards require students to adopt a different style of learning to master the material.
“We’re writing in mathematics, we’re writing in science, we’re writing in social studies. People have to have evidence to support their position. It’s a much more rigorous, higher-order thinking skills kind of requirement,” says Vilwock.
She notes that the amount of material covered in the early grades has changed to allow a more in-depth understanding of key concepts.
“From [kindergarten through fourth grade], students are learning basics at a very deep level, so if you’re subtracting, you have to be able to explain why you subtracted, you have to have the numeric understanding behind that, so K-4 is much less content, actually.”
She says once the children reach grades five, six, and seven, the content level increases because they have a foundation on which to build.
North Carolina adopted the Common Core Standards in 2010. The 2012-2013 school year was the first in which the teachers, students, and parents saw them fully implemented in the classroom.
Vilwock says teachers were well prepared for the changes, but nonetheless the district is continuing to work to make sure the transition process is smooth.
“The district has hired a firm out of the University of Pittsburgh called the Institute for Learning and they’ve been working with us last eyar and into this year teaching teachers how to have the instructional methodology that they need.”
The district met the majority of the state and federal proficiency expectations, but economically disadvantaged high school students struggled to meet many of the testing goals.
Officials warn against jumping to conclusions as this is the first year students have been tested using the new standards. Instead, they say this data will form the baseline for comparisons in coming years.
Letter from the Superintendent Regarding Test Results for 2012-13
In the early 1990s I was working at ARCO Chemical Company in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Times were good at ARCO, although that would change. We were making money, dress was formal, and we devoted time and resources to supporting the local community. As part of that effort, I was asked to host a group of high school science and math teachers for a day. I gave them a tour, fed them lunch, and provided a description of the types of science and math skills which were used in my department. At the end of the day one of the teachers asked me this: “We are told by our administrators that we need to train our science and math students to work on collaborative problem solving and team work techniques. Is this important to you?” I paused for a moment and responded, “Really what we need is for you to teach them to get the right answer. You can leave the teamwork lessons to us.” The room erupted into whoops and cheers. It was kinda nice.
If anything, the question of how best to educate our budding scientists and engineers is even more critical today than it was during that long ago session with those teachers. And at least with regard to educating our strongest math students, I think we are on the wrong track.
All of us are born with different subsets of aptitudes. Just like some people are born with a talent for dancing (1) some people are naturally good at math. Math aptitude can be predicted at an early age using some simple tests. For example, if you ask a preschool child look at five coins sitting on a table top and ask her how many there are, a high-performing math student will look at them, see the pattern, and say five. An average-performing math student will count them. Psychologists call these pattern-perceiving skills number sense.
If you want to know if your child has good number sense, play a game of monopoly. If, after rolling the dice, your child moves her playing piece around the board based on the recurring patterns of corners and railroads (it’s all fives and tens) there is strong possibility that attending math olympiads is part of your future. If instead she counts the spaces off one at a time, some different sort of time-consuming parental obligation awaits.
While all students need an appropriate and challenging math education to prepare them for a full and prosperous life and career, the remainder of this column will focus on the education of the high-performing math students who may go on to be scientists and engineers. As I have foreshadowed, I am concerned about how this is being managed.
In order to keep this column at some sort of reasonable length I am going to focus on just one critique(2), the current obsession with making the student “explain how she got the answer”. If you happen to be born with good number sense, this question can be particularly vexing. For example, let’s say I asked you to solve two plus two. You know the answer is four. Now try to explain how you got the answer. Difficult, isn’t it? It’s tempting to say “because it’s four”. For high-performing math students, problems which may sound complex to a general audience, read just like “what is two plus two?” Forcing these students to construct a sentence or two to describe the process that occurred in their head is a frustrating waste of time.
As an analogy, let us again consider someone with a natural ability to dance, someone who can feel the music, anticipate where the music going, and then move his body in a way that evokes the essence of the piece. Imagine now that in the middle of a particularly moving segment of choreography we turn off the music, make the dancer stop, and require him to write down why he chose to move his left foot in front of his right rather than behind. I suspect that it would be difficult for him to explain, detract from his joy of the dance and in no way help him to be a better dancer. It’s no different for the mathematician. You can’t see it, but during the calculations something beautiful is happening in her head. Making her stop to reduce the intuitive to prose is just as disruptive and non-productive as interrupting the dancer.
Unfortunately the authors of the Common Core seem not to agree with me. Here is a passage that appears in the introduction of the new math standards.
There is a world of difference between a student who can summon a mnemonic device to expand a product such as (a + b)(x + y) and a student who can explain where the mnemonic comes from. The student who can explain the rule understands the mathematics, and may have a better chance to succeed at a less familiar task such as expanding (a + b + c)(x + y). Mathematical understanding and procedural skill are equally important, and both are assessable using mathematical tasks of sufficient richness.
The mnemonic being impugned here is FOIL (first, outside, inside, last) which describes which pairs of variables are to be multiplied in (a + b)(x + y). I know how to do this problem but if asked to “explain” this rule, frankly, I would have no idea what to write.
Instead, let’s talk about what “mathematical understanding” means. It is my firm position that it has a lot more to do with the pattern recognitions involved in determining number sense than in being able to write a sentence about the mechanics of division. Further, I believe that math education for those with good number sense should strive to help grow and improve these skills. Let me use the problem above from the Common Core as an example of a pattern recognition approach to math.
At some point early in your math education someone taught you to do the problem below.
a(x +y) = ax + ay
Not long after you learned the one below and were taught the mnemonic FOIL.
(a + b)(x + y) = ax + ay + bx + by
Let me pause to make something clear at this point. In addition to being opposed to making students write a paragraph about how to solve this problem, I am also no fan of mnemonics. The problem above is the solution for how to multiple two binomials. If you can see the underlying pattern, then it is broadly applicable to other situations. This ability to see patterns and apply them to other problems is the essence of mathematical understanding.
Look at the patterns in the two solutions above and now consider the problem (a + b + c)(x + y) which the Common Core holds out as difficult. But if you’ve learned to do the two problems in the previous paragraph, the answer is obvious, whether you have good number sense or not. Furthermore, you also know now how to do (a + b + c +d + e)(x + y + z) or any other problems like this with any number of terms within the parentheses whether or not you’ve ever written a paragraph about it.
Here in the Chapel Hill Carrboro City School District we have a mantra of reaching each child at his or her own level. For our students with good number sense (3) we need to find a way push the Common Core aside and let them get back to dancing.
Have a comment or question? Use the comment interface below or send me an email to email@example.com.
(1) Sadly your author was born without this aptitude.
(2) In an earlier, much longer version, of this column I included a lengthy diatribe about math vocabulary. It seems as though over the last several decades text book authors have decided that every step in a mathematical solution should have a unique name. To me this just clutters things up and detracts from math education. It also included a suggestion that calculators be banned from all grades below ninth.
(3) Because I am a person with good number sense, I feel more confident in critiquing the applicability of the Common Core to others with good number sense. However, I would like to share with you my suspicion that its approach is a misfire for all students. Maybe a bit more focus on procedural skill would be a better pathway towards mathematical skill for all.http://chapelboro.com/columns/common-science/the-uncommon-core-of-the-new-math/
CHAPEL HILL – The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools face another tough budget cycle for this year and the next, due in part to cuts in funding from the General Assembly. That’s why Board of Education is thinking carefully about contributing $5,000 to a new organization formed by the state School Boards Association, whose agenda some have said could be too political.
At last week’s Board of Education meeting, member Mike Kelley was the first to speak up, in opposition of giving money to the newly-formed N.C. School Boards Association’s Action Center. It was formed as a way to strengthen the local school board’s advocacy efforts.
In a memo to the CHCCS, reps of the Action Center explained that public education and local school board authority was under attack. The memo also clarified that the Action Center will not endorse political candidates or establish a political action committee.
James Barrett said that he didn’t see a problem with more efforts to advocate for education.
“It’s the same work and the same lobbying that we already support with our money,” Barrett said.
The School Boards Association is a 501(c)(3) organization which has limited funds that it can invest “advocacy and grassroots engagement.” The new Action Center was created as a 501(c)(4) and will be able to “generate additional resources for expanded advocacy efforts.”
Kelley said that he agreed with the ideas behind the group, but said it was ultimately the wrong way to use public money to support political agendas.
“We belong to the School Board Association for a variety of reasons, one of which is to have communications with the Legislature,” Kelley said. “I think that is a reasonable thing to do, but to turn into another direction. It has a political agenda.”
Jamezetta Bedford, Vice-Chair of the CHCCS Board, said that she believed there is no harm in using public dollars for the public purpose of advocating for public education.
“I am a politician. It is my job as a school board member to advocate for children just like PTA’s advocate for children,” Bedford said.
Bedford said that she wanted more clarification concerning the Action Center’s budget and bylaws.
Chair Michelle Brownstein agreed, saying that a public conversation was necessary before any action was taken.
“I’ll just say, I would need a whole lot more information to feel comfortable writing a check that certainly had my name on it as the Chair,” she said.
Brownstein decided to table to donation discussion until after the September 18 District Five School Boards Association meeting.http://chapelboro.com/news/pre-k-12-education/chccs-boe-contemplating-5k-contribution-to-education-advocacy-center/
Photo by Erik Andersen
CHAPEL HILL – The busiest time of move-in weekend wraps up Sunday and students have been keeping Associate Director Rick Bradley and many others from the Center for Housing and Residential Education busy.
Bradley says a lot of the works done over the summer were improvements in some dorm buildings and preparing for students to arrive.
“We have done some building renovations this summer in a very short turn around time doing some interior room work and bathroom renovations,” Bradley says.
Many students have already moved into their on-campus dorms to prepare for classes starting Tuesday. Bradley says that the students moving in makes it a little chaotic, but somehow an organized process.
“Oh certainly busy, over half of our students are already back, Wednesday really starts kinda the big move-in day,” Bradley says. “But today and tomorrow are big days for our 3200 first year students that are living with us on campus this year.”
Bradley says work for UNC staff in the Center for Housing and Residential Education is just beginning with students moving in. Currently a lot of the work has been done by maintenance, facilities, and house-keeping. But, Bradley says that once the semester begins, other aspects of the job begin too.
“And as we open, a lot of the work just really begins for most our residential education team that does a lot of program activities and activity planning, but in cooperation with some of our academic partners and others, so the work is never ending” said Bradley.
The Center for Housing and Residential Education provides support for new students and helps many students become accustomed to college. For more information, click here.http://chapelboro.com/news/unc/unc-wraps-up-move-in-weekend-sunday/