What Can We Learn From West Virginia?

We cannot allow this latest defeat get us down, instead we must look for lessons we can take from this latest battle.

As I type this, the West Virginia Senate has just finished debating and voting on an education bill that will allow charter schools to enter the state. The famously independent West Virginia had been one of six states that did not have charter school legislation.

This means we are now at a point in this country where only five states: Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Vermont are still without charter school legislation.

The legislation passed today is similar to the bills that caused the educators of West Virginia to go on strike twice, once each year for the past two year. It is telling that this time, the West Virginia legislature sought to pass the bill when school was not in session. How best to get around a teacher strike by bringing the legislation up for a vote when school is not in session? Charter schools are particularly unpopular in West Virginia with 88% of West Virginian’s disagreeing with creating charter schools. It should not surprise anyone then that a proposed amendment to the bill when it was in the West Virginia House to allow the people in individual counties to vote on whether to allow charter schools in their counties was defeated.

Public education supervillain, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos even got in on the action tweeting:

West Virginia has an opportunity to improve education for all & put the needs of students first. Looking forward to seeing bold moves to offer robust options like charter schools & ESAs and support great teachers. Let’s get it done @WVGovernor, @SenCarmichaelWV & @SpeakerHanshaw!— Betsy DeVos (@BetsyDeVosED) May 31, 2019

It should be noted that all Democrats serving in the West Virginia Senate voted against the bill and that they were joined by two Republicans. So it goes that the privatizers of education win another battle in another state. As educators, it is easy for us to grow despondent over the continue attacks on our profession and the lives of our students, especially as the advocacy that we do, we do in addition to our full-time job.

We cannot allow this latest defeat get us down, instead we must look for a lesson or lessons that we can take from this latest battle. Truly speaking, the easiest lesson is this. In order to beat the privatizers we must beat them at the ballot box.

We need to continue to fight for all of our students and explain to their families why and how our fight is also their fight. That what we do, we do for them.

We are committed to making sure ALL our students are successful, in 2020 we need to make sure that our legislators are dedicated to the same commitment.

Reflecting on the ECE Conference

Through working with our state and local affiliates we want to work to provide the support that educators need to survive the early years in the profession.

As I sit here at the airport in Houston waiting for my flight to take me back to Raleigh, I figured now was as good an opportunity as any to reflect on my experiences over the last few days at NEA’s Early Career Educator Training and Strategic Planning Session.

First of all, can we talk about POWER and ENERGY? Y’ALL! It was so powerful to be in a room full of people from ACROSS THE COUNTRY. The energy that educators spanning the country from Maine to Florida to Texas to Arizona to Oregon to Wisconsin was remarkable. NEA brought educators from across the entire width of the country together in Texas.

The focus was on Early Career Educators (ECEs), and right away my mindset was challenged and changed. Prior to this weekend, whenever I thought of ECEs, I automatically thought of those educators ages 21-30ish. NEA staff on site was intentional in reminding us that ECEs also may include those people who have entered into education as a second or third career and to not exclude those who we may automatically assumed were veterans. I also appreciated how NEA made sure to intentionally include ESPs into the conversation because they are vital to the success of our students, schools and communities.

An interesting thing was to see how different states were in different parts of the journey to develop strong systems to support ECEs. There were states like Ohio, with O.N.E, who have been working on developing this for multiple years now, which by the way I recommend checking out. On the other hand, there were states like us in North Carolina who are just now launching our ECE group within our state affiliate of NEA. It was incredibly powerful to see those more developed groups like ONE continuing to work on crafting their message and develop new supports for their educators.

The energy y’all was just amazing though. All of us that spent the weekend in Houston were there because we know that we need to make changes to better support educators newer to the profession and either we want to be the ones to do it, or someone else thinks we can be. The data shows that educators are increasingly leaving the profession for hobs with higher pay and that are perceived to have more respect. Through working with our state and local affiliates we want to work to provide the support that educators need to survive the early years in the profession while also fighting to get the resources that we need to be able to successfully do our job.

Everyone was fired up all weekend. We gained tools and strategies to take back to our states to help recruit, support, and retain ECEs. We formed connections with other ECEs from across the state who we can continue to learn from as we go to our separate states. Those connections will be incredibly powerful and I am so excited to see the actions that all of us take.

Our ECE group in North Carolina is called SYNCED, Supporting Your New Carolina Educators. I am incredibly excited to work with this group to help support ECEs across the state of North Carolina. Connect with us on Facebook here and on Twitter here. Spread the word to other ECEs across the state so they can get plugged in!

Brown v. Board of Ed: The Unfulfilled Promise

We are doing a grave injustice to not just our country, but our students.

This past week marked 65 years since the Supreme Court struck down “separate but equal” public schools as anything but equal. The unanimous opinion delivered by Chief Justice Warren saying that, “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” The anniversary of this ruling also coincided this year with the release of the movie The Best of Enemies telling the story of the integrating of Durham Public Schools here in North Carolina. In the movie, they are talking about desegregating the schools in the 1970s, almost 20 years after the ruling.

While it was a good movie to watch, I was troubled and remained troubled by the lessons that those who are not aware of the current situation that we are faced with in the United States might draw from the movie.

Our schools are some of the most segregated SINCE integration. This is thanks to “school choice” (read – choosing to send your kids to school with more white kid) and opportunity scholarships to private schools.

Durham, the school system the movie is about 19.1% white. The people of Durham County as a whole (as of 2016) are approximately 50.3% white.

My school district, Lee, is approximately 40% white. The people of Lee County as a whole (as of 2015) are approximately 74.9% white. Looking the two private schools in Lee County and a dramatically different picture is painted. Lee Christian School has approximately 388 students in grades PK-12, 86% of which are white. Grace Christian School has approximately 452 students in grades PK-12, 84% of which are white. For the 2018-2019 school year, Lee County had its first charter school open and as it is the first year data based on demographics is not yet available. A second charter school is slated to open in 2020.

Switching back to Durham, Voyager Academy serves approximately 1,347 students in grade K-12, 68% are white. Excelsior Classical Academy serves approximately 576 students in grades K-5, 59% of those students are white. Immaculata Catholic School serves approximately 455 students in grades PK-8, 61% are white.

Think I’m crazy? Just look at a few of the many articles that have been published lately:
https://www.newsweek.com/brown-board-ed-segregation-trump-judges-1429128

https://www.nbcnews.com/news/nbcblk/65-years-brown-v-board-ed-school-segregation-persists-n1006356

https://www.vox.com/identities/2019/5/10/18566052/school-segregation-brown-board-education-report

http://facingtoday.facinghistory.org/school-resegregation-65-years-after-brown-v-board

Studies have shown that the best way for us to combat ignorance and prejudice is to interact with people that are different from us. By not doing enough to speak out against school segregation, we are doing a grave injustice to not just our country, but our students.

The Brown v. Board of Education ruling has been broadly viewed to be the end of school segregation, when you dig into the numbers, it is striking how false that is. The promise of school integration is still widely unfulfilled, to a depressing degree.

Teacher Appreciation Week: Here’s what this teacher wants

Tomorrow starts Teacher Appreciation Week! Some teachers will no doubt be taking advantage of everything from discounts at retail stores to free food at restaurants. Others will be inundated with gift cards to Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts and Target. Still others might receive a small, handwritten note or just verbal kindness that actually means more than anything that can be bought with money.

We do not become teachers for the gifts that we may or may not get this week. That being said, those gifts we might get are nice.

If we are being honest though, if someone wants to actually show their appreciation for teachers this week here’s a list of things that would do that, specifically in North Carolina:

  1. A government who actually supports my profession, not one that does a terrible job at hiding their hatred for it
  2. Enough school librarians, psychologists, social workers, counselors, nurses, and other health professionals to meet national standards
  3. A $15 minimum wage for all school personnel, 5% raise for all ESPs (non-certified staff), teachers, admin, and a 5% cost of living adjustment for retirees
  4. Expanding Medicaid to improve the health of our students and families
  5. Reinstating state retiree health benefits eliminated by the General Assembly in 2017
  6. Restoring advanced degree compensation stripped by the General Assembly in 2013
  7. Funding for smaller class sizes
  8. Funding for textbooks (I have literally zero for my 7th grade social studies class) and/or technology such as chromebooks
  9. A renewed cap on charter school expansion which is draining money from our public schools and exacerbating segregation.
  10. Ending the grading of our public schools based on asinine test scores
  11. The end to high stakes standardized testing
  12. Funding to complete much needed maintenance on our aging buildings
  13. A salary that will allow educators to not need to work multiple jobs to support a family.
  14. Restorative practices that will help students stay in school instead of continuing the school to prison pipeline.
  15. Calendar flexibility that fits our local needs.

Is this everything? No, but it would be a good start.

An Open Letter to Those Who Vote Against Closing Schools for #AllOutMay 1

You have shown your true colors.

Dear Local Board of Educations,

This letter began as thoughts swirled in my head in the hours after my local board of education here in Lee County voted to alter the 2018-2019 school calendar to make May 1st an optional teacher work day in response to the amount of public school workers who had put in for the day.

The conversation in the lead up to the vote in my county swirled around the safety issue that had been created by the amount of substitutes that were going to be needed for the day and the fact that there was the very real chance that students would be put in danger on the morning of May 1st if (or when) people called in sick.

I’ll be honest. I understand why you do not want to close. It’s close to testing. While most everyone these days can agree that testing is harmful to students it is still a large factor in our choices because of the pressure put on districts to get our students to succeed on them. Personally, that pressure we feel is part of why I will be in Raleigh on May 1st.

That being said, with the amount of leave forms that have been turned in over the past month or so, that was not the discussion that was being had at this meeting.

The discussion as mentioned before, came down to safety.

Safety for our students.

At that point, your personal feelings about the politics about the day, which have been and will continue to be discussed ad nauseum, do not matter. Your sole concern should be safety.

So why is it.. that when your Superintendent and head of transportation tell you that they are not comfortable with having school on May 1st, would you still vote against turning it into an optional work day?

That was the case in my district. The vote was 5-2 in favor of the calendar change.

To the 2 votes AGAINST the change.. if you had won the vote, then what? Did you think that far ahead? Or did you just want to score cheap points with your base, which is increasingly shrinking?

You lost any moral high ground you may have perceived that you had when it came to talking about the safety of our students.

You say that May 1st is political theatre. I disagree. That being said, your vote against changing the calendar was political theatre. The difference? May 1st has a good chance at making positive change for our students. Your vote, just showed how out of touch you are and how political you have made the Board of Education.

May 1st, I will be rallying to support our students and school systems who desperately need help.

When you are up for re-election, I will be rallying voters to vote you out.

In a way I should thank you, for you have shown your true colors.

Sincerely,

Dane West

This Fight is For Everyone

Those of us advocating for #AllOutMay1 cross the political spectrum, we range from left to right. Red to blue. Democrat to Republican.

The narrative of those who wish to attack #AllOutMay1 is that the organizers are a bunch of far-left radicals. A bunch of crazies who are using children to further political goals.

That attack is patently false. Those of us advocating for #AllOutMay1 cross the political spectrum, we range from left to right. Red to blue. Democrat to Republican. There is no single label that could easily fit the entire spectrum for those of us righting for public education.

The truth of the matter is that this movement for our public schools is a broad fight, a fight for everyone.

Looking at our goals should make that obvious. Let’s revisit them again for a moment.

▪ Providing enough school librarians, psychologists, social workers, counselors, nurses and other health professionals to meet national standards.

▪ Providing a $15 minimum wage for all school personnel, a 5 percent raise for all school employees and a 5 percent cost of living adjustment for retirees.

▪ Expanding Medicaid to improve the health of students and families.

▪ Reinstating state retiree health benefits for teachers who will be hired after 2021.

▪ Restoring extra pay for teachers with advanced degrees such as a master’s degree.

The map above is taken directly from a report put out by the North Carolina Poverty Research Fund. What I found most striking about the map? The higher the percent of people without health insurance, the more rural the county. That right there should disprove the narrative that this is a far-left, urban movement. Expanding Medicaid would actually disproportionately benefit our rural, right-leaning counties. As educators, we know the importance of our students being healthy. Students that are not healthy have a hard time learning. That is why I so strongly believe in expanding Medicaid to my students and their families. My county, Lee County, sees between 16.7-18.2% of our people without health insurance. Translated to my classroom – that’s almost 20 students.

The more urban counties such as Durham, Wake, and Charlotte-Mecklenburg have more resources to use which allows them to provide a bigger supplement for teachers, offer a higher hourly wage for ESPs, and more funding for librarian, school nurses, school counselors, and others. These points that we are fighting for is important because we are fighting for state funding for these issues. Our more rural counties do not have a tax base that would allow for a competition with the urban areas.

Do our urban counties have issues of their own? Sure. However, the issues for #AllOutMay1 are not just an urban agenda. They are an agenda that everyone should be able to support.

This is not a partisan agenda. This is a pro-public education agenda. One that is needed to support all of our students.

Teaching and living in a rural county I understand that this can be scary. Educators, we have to take the leap. If we do not take it now, we will be facing the same problems 15-20 years from now and it will arguably be worse.

Take the leap, you’ll have thousands of people supporting you.

Who says we don’t have a union?

We’re a union just by saying so.

When I moved to North Carolina during the summer of 2017, one of the first things that I was told was that since we were a right to work state we did not have unions. I accepted this at face value for the vast majority of my first year in the state. I spent a lot of that time living in fear. While I had good relationships with the people in my school building, I still felt like I was living in a culture of fear because there was nothing bigger behind me. Coming to North Carolina from New Jersey, that was a part of teaching that I did not expect as teachers in New Jersey benefit from NJEA which is quite strong.

May 16th changed a lot of things for me.

From little Lee County, I saw school district after school district shut down. I saw thousands of teachers and other public school advocates flood the streets of Raleigh, demanding better for our students.

I was inspired. I was also surprised. If we did not have a union that how the heck did May 16th happen? I would be remiss if I did not recognize the work that groups such as North Carolina Teachers United (NCTU) and Red4EdNC did to get advocates out on May 16th, but I also realized that NCAE was our union in North Carolina.

Anti-union activists will say that unionizing is illegal in North Carolina. That is false. While NCAE and other labor groups do not have collective bargaining, those groups are still unions. They still bring people together for a purpose.

This year NCAE’s common purpose is in the form of fighting for five goals:

▪ Provide enough school librarians, psychologists, social workers, counselors, nurses, and other health professionals to meet national standard,

▪ Provide $15 minimum wage for all school personnel, 5 percent raise for all school employees and a 5 percent cost of living adjustment for retirees.

▪ Expand Medicaid to improve the health of our students and families.

▪ Reinstate state retiree health benefits for teachers who will be hired after 2021.

▪ Restore extra pay for teachers with advanced degrees such as a master’s degree.

I am a big fan of the musical, Newsies, and I cannot help but feel that some of the themes in that show are applicable to our situation in North Carolina. When thinking about our fight in North Carolina I think about the song from that show, The World Will Know. North Carolina teachers, here’s a shorten version for us.

JACK:
Berger and Moore, they think we’re nothing’. Are we nothin’?

TEACHERS:
No!

JACK:
Berger and Moore, they think they got us. Do they got us?

TEACHERS :
No!

JACK:
Even though we ain’t collective bargaining, we’re a union just by saying so.
And the state will know. What’s it gonna take to stop the bleeding? Are we ready?

TEACHERS :
Yeah!

JACK:
What’s it gonna take to stop the starving? Can we do it?

TEACHERS :
Yeah!

JACK:
We’ll do what we gotta do until we break the will of mighty Phil and Tim.

TEACHERS :
And the state will know. And the counties too.

JACK & DAVEY:
Mister Berger and Tim, have we got news for you.

TEACHERS :
See, the state don’t know know, but they’re gonna pay.

JACK & DAVEY:
‘Stead of teachin’ history we’ll be makin’ it today.

TEACHERS :
And our ranks will grow,

CRUTCHIE:
And we’ll kick their rear!

TEACHERS :
And the state will know that we been here.

JACK:
When the school bell starts ringing, will we hear it?

TEACHERS :
No!

JACK:
What if the privatizer’s come out swinging? Will we hear it?

TEACHERS:
When ya got a hundred voices singing, who can hear a lousy bell blow?
And state will know that this ain’t no game,
That we got a ton of knowledge and perfect aim.
So they gave their word. Well, it ain’t worth beans.
Now they’re gonna see what “Close the schools” really means.

Ladies and gentlemen. We are a union just by saying so. Get your personal days in for May 1st. Feel scared? You have thousands of teachers standing behind you.