We believe that public schools are the foundation of the American dream and the cornerstone of our democracy. Public education cultivates the next generation of thoughtful and engaged citizens and it embodies one of the most fundamental ideals of the American dream: equality of opportunity. The basis of equality of opportunity is belief that every American child, no matter the circumstances of his or her background, deserves a fair start in life. Public education can give even the poorest child a chance to excel through adequate resources, opportunity and the nurturing guidance of excellent teachers.
Public schools take all children who enter their school doors and provide them with an education, regardless of their race or their parents’ income or where they live. With adequate resources and excellent teachers, public schools are the best places to promote student growth and academic achievement. They can offer a robust curriculum that can help each child realize their full potential. Our public schools also bring communities together and are often the only place where different kinds of people come together with a shared purpose.
We believe that effective public schools benefit everyone—from the students they serve to the businesses that recruit well-educated graduates to the taxpayers who benefit when well-prepared students graduate and give back to the community. We believe that when a society educates its citizens, it preserves its democracy and fuels a vibrant economy. Every member of society needs the necessary skills to fully participate in the constitutional freedoms of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Our forefathers recognized that talent and ingenuity were not to be found exclusively among a narrow class of citizens, but could be found anywhere. Public schools, in opening their doors to all, would cast the widest net and foster the greatest progress, both for individual Americans and for our country as a whole. Indeed the history of public education in the United States is a testament to what is possible when we invest in the next generation. The expansion of access to public education throughout the 19th and 20th centuries brought a marked increase in economic prosperity.
In addition to the economic benefits of a well-educated workforce, there are continued civic benefits from public education. Public schools arguably comprise the one institution of our society that still knits us together as a community and binds us in a set of shared values. Public schools honor and celebrate diversity, but do so in a way that also honors the common good—the values, interests, and dreams we have in common. Public schools seek not to splinter us into enclaves of difference, but to bring us together in a shared sense of purpose and pride in being an American.
An inclusive, fair, innovative and accountable public education system that nurtures and prepares each child for success in school and life.
“The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves.”
John Adams, President of the United States (1797-1801)
Effective Public Schools
Effective public schools benefit everyone—from the students they serve, to the hardworking teachers, teacher assistants and other school staff that do the educational “heavy lifting,” to businesses who recruit well-educated graduates and taxpayers who generally benefit when well-prepared students graduate and give back to the community.
Public Schools First NC believes there are five key factors that combine to enable the effective public schools that educate each child for life: excellence in teaching, adequate funding, a well-rounded and innovative curriculum, accountability and a safe and equitable learning environment. When any or all of these factors come under threat, so does the effectiveness of the education each child receives.
Excellence in Teaching
Schools ALL our students deserve begin with dedicated, experienced, career teachers. If we don’t treat teaching as a profession, we won’t have professionals in our classrooms.
Yevonne Brannon, PhD
Excellent, caring teachers who help each student achieve academically are critical to effective public schools. In order to recruit and retain excellent educators, teaching must be a respected and fulfilling profession in our state. Talented young people need to see teaching as a profession they can make into a lifelong career. Research shows that teachers want to work in supportive environments, with good leadership, where they have freedom for creativity as well as rigor, and where colleagues, rather than compete, collaborate with one another to ensure student success.
Inadequate funding for NC public schools dramatically affects teacher morale. Changes in how teachers are paid and various cuts in benefits have resulted in fewer college students choosing education as a profession. In addition, overall budget cuts have raised class size in the upper grades, reduced classroom support staff, and severely limited professional development, mentoring, and basic resources such as textbooks and instructional supplies. In addition, North Carolina is ranked lower than the national average in teacher pay. According to a March 2018 NEA Rankings and Estimates report, the average NC teacher salary is $50,861, while the national average is $60,483.
Teaching in North Carolina is increasingly difficult. Beginning teacher pay is 43rd in the nation and career protections were repealed in 2013. Many experienced teachers have left the profession or the state to provide for their families, and many college students have decided that they cannot count on teaching as a career. Over the next five years, significant numbers of experienced teachers will be retiring or edging close to retirement age. Enrollment in education programs across the UNC system is down 35 percent since 2012. Our teacher pipeline is drying up at both ends. Read more about NC teacher salaries here and the NC teacher pipeline here.
Teacher Tenure/Career Status/Due Process Rights
Teacher tenure (otherwise known as career status) gives teachers who have successfully demonstrated competence after a three-year probationary period, protection from being unfairly dismissed. These “due process rights” were developed to protect teachers from favoritism, nepotism, and arbitrary administrative decisions. It is not a guaranteed job for life but rather a process where teachers have a right to know why they are being dismissed and a right to have the dismissal reviewed by an impartial party. Due process does not keep teachers from being terminated but it does ensure that there is a “just cause” for termination. Due process for K-12 teachers is sometimes confused with tenure held by university professors. Providing due process for K-12 teachers should be viewed as part of a good-government process that ensures qualified teachers instead of politically appointed (patronage) teachers and protects teachers from being fired for a variety of discriminatory reasons (sex and race discrimination, personal political activities, religious beliefs, etc.). In the summer of 2013, lawmakers enacted a repeal of the “Career Status Law” with the goal of eliminating tenure for all teachers by 2018. The NC Court of Appeals deemed the General Assembly’s 2013 repeal of the teacher tenure law unconstitutional for teachers who already had career status. Teachers who did not already have career status by August 2013 are no longer eligible for career status. Learn more about the decision here. An overview is here and here.
Teacher Free Speech
Watch a video explaining the issues with teachers’ right to free speech here. The loss of career status/due process and the resulting contracts that teachers without career status will now have to work under have had a chilling effect on their 1st Amendment guaranteed right to free speech. Teachers are reluctant to speak up against school leadership or school board policies because they fear their contract will not be renewed. Further, teachers are reluctant to stand up for students – to administrators, local officials, and even the state – when job security could be jeopardized. This is unfortunate since teachers are on the ground with our students and no one knows better than they do when policies are adversely affecting our kids. Many teachers across the state have asked their local boards to pass resolutions protecting their rights to speak out for students. Read about them here and here.
Public Schools First NC strongly believes that North Carolina must commit to providing a stable, strong, and vibrant public school system for every single student in our state. We must treat teaching as a profession in order to fulfill that constitutional promise to our children. We must improve teacher pay, reinstate master’s pay and career status, protect teachers’ rights to speak up for their students without threat of losing an employment contract, and fix our damaged teacher pipeline.
To attract and retain the best teachers, we must:
- Pay teachers fairly
- Provide teachers ongoing access to professional development resources
- Reward teachers for experience and advanced degrees
- Give teachers reasonable class sizes and manageable workloads
- Evaluate teachers fairly using a variety of tools, not just on student test scores
- Restore teacher assistants in early grades to allow needed one-on-one instructional time
- Provide high-quality textbooks, technology, and other instructional supplies
- Provide high quality pre-school so that each child comes to school “kindergarten ready”
- Increase significantly scholarships/fellowships in all fields of education to attract new teachers to the profession
Public Education (K-12) Funding
Well-funded, diverse schools are the embodiment of these democratic ideals North Carolina currently funds schools with a complex formula that includes three basic types of allotments: position allotments, dollar allotments and categorical allotments. Position allotments include funding for teachers, principals and instructional support staff and other school personnel. Dollar allotments can be used to fund positions like teacher assistants and textbooks. Categorical allotments are used for budget items such as transportation and at-risk student services. View a summary of the funding formula. You can read this document for more historical context presented in December, 2017 by Adam Levinson, former NCDPI Chief Financial Officer.
The NEA estimates that North Carolina is ranked 39th in the nation in spending per student at $9,528 per child. The national average is estimated at $11,934. Textbook funds remain below pre-recession funding levels, reduced from $76 (inflation adjusted) to $47 per pupil. In addition, classroom supplies funding was reduced from $66 (inflation adjusted) to $30 per pupil.
Allotments for teaching assistants, textbooks, At-Risk student services and more are still below 2008-2009 levels when adjusted for inflation. NC public schools have added more than 90,000 students in recent years, including many more English language learners and students living in poverty. According to the latest figures, almost half of North Carolina’s children live in poor or low-income households and 22 percent live in poverty (ncchild.org). The official poverty level for a family of two adults and two children is $24,339.
North Carolina teacher salaries are 37th in the U.S, and 6th out of 12 southern states. The average North Carolina teacher salary was $50,861 in 2017-2018, about $9,600 less than the national average of $60,483. Further, NC teachers earn just 65.4 cents on the dollar compared with other college graduates. This is the 2nd widest pay gap in the nation according to a recent study by EPI. Our state has accomplished much of its progress in education by implementing proven reforms such as small classes, pre-kindergarten education, and mentoring for new teachers. We believe these investments should be continued rather than undermined.
Increasing funding to pre-recession levels is critical to ensuring equitable and effective public education for all students. Even with the most recent budget adjustments, more investment is needed to provide adequate school resources and to return North Carolina to pre-recession funding levels. Many educational resources are poorly funded or not funded at all. We must do better for all our students.
A Well-Rounded and Innovative Curriculum
A well-rounded, and innovative curriculum that advances each child is critical in helping North Carolina students succeed in school and in life. While the core academic subjects are important, we must also expose all students to a vibrant, well-rounded education that teaches them how to read and think critically while meeting the needs of the whole child. Our public schools must provide a broad education that includes significant study of literature, mathematics, the arts, computer science, history, civics, science, foreign languages, and physical education. Employers need employees with cross-cutting skills who can fill jobs in information technology, engineering, accounting, and finance.Additionally, our students need access to high-quality textbooks, technology, and other instructional supplies to enable and enhance their instruction.
Threats to a rich curriculum include:
- Growth in standardized testing that promotes “teaching to the test”
- Narrow focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) subjects without equal investment in foreign language, music, and arts instruction
- Inadequate funds for technology and basic instructional materials
- Lack of experienced, certified teaches in every classroom
North Carolina’s public schools must be held to the high standards needed to prepare our students for the challenges they will face in the future. The best way to determine whether schools, teachers, and students are meeting these standards is through careful examination of the actual work that students and teachers do during a year – including papers, projects, assignments, and teacher-created examinations. Other effective evaluation tools—including peer review, parent and student evaluations, and timely feedback and coaching—must be fairly and consistently implemented to enhance teacher effectiveness as well as to identify weak teachers.
The standardized testing introduced by the federal No Child Left Behind legislation had some initial value, in that it highlighted significant performance gaps between different groups of children – sometimes within the same schools. But the proliferation of high-stakes testing that followed has become one of the greatest obstacles to school and student achievement. Testing focused too much on the narrow set of skills that can be measured by a standardized test should not be the leading determinant of a teacher’s effectiveness and pay nor of a child’s academic abilities. Parents need to know how their children are doing academically, principals need to know how to help teachers improve instruction, and teachers need test data to guide their instruction and intervention. Using test scores to rate schools and teachers exclusively harms public education’s goal of designing meaningful learning experiences for all students.
To meet the federal requirements for its Race to the Top grant, North Carolina developed numerous new state tests. Now, under the North Carolina Excellent Public Schools Act of 2013, NC public schools use these end-of-grade and end-of-course tests to grade schools on a scale from A to F. In Indiana and Florida, where similar grading schemes are employed, schools that serve a high proportion of low-income students are graded D or F at a much higher rate than schools that serve high-income students. The A-F grades for each NC school by the percent of low income children in the school is presented here. School grades continue to be strongly correlated to family income levels.
North Carolina’s A-F system is used as part of the school closures/takeover legislation known as the Innovative School District and used for test-based evaluation and pay-for-performance for our teachers—even though the methods used to link test scores to teacher quality are deeply flawed. If schools need help in serving academically-struggling students, resources should be made available instead of closing or taking over schools. Research does not support this approach to accountability.
Safe and Equitable Learning Environment
Effective public schools should offer an excellent educational environment where parents and teachers work together to prepare each child for career or college. In addition to a rich classroom experience, our public schools should provide a healthy, safe school climate with discipline practices that promote fair and respectful treatment of students and encourage students to stay in school and graduate. Finally, school-based services that address a child’s social, emotional, and health needs must be made available to all eligible students.
Every school should be a place each parent would want their child to attend; every learning environment should offer the resources needed so students can be prepared to be productive, engaged citizens when they graduate and take their place in society.
Visit this page to learn more about strategies that promote safe and equitable schools.
Last updated December 2018