Berger’s six misleading minutes about TAs, teachers, and public schools

Berger’s six misleading minutes about TAs, teachers, and public schools

- in Fitzsimon File

Berger_TAsSenate President Pro Tem Phil Berger sure knows how to improve the morale of the folks working hard every day to help students and teachers across North Carolina.

Berger recently told a meeting of the education group BEST NC that the 15,000 state-funded and low-paid teacher assistants who are now helping kids learn to read, driving school buses, serving on emergency response teams, giving insulin shots, and doing a dozen other things to help teachers and children and schools are essentially as useless as manual typewriters.

That will come as a surprise to the teachers and students and parents who rely on them.

Berger delivered the remarks in a six-minute presentation in which he also touted his Read to Achieve Initiative designed to make sure that students can read by the end of the third grade.

Berger must not have been listening last year when the superintendent of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools told lawmakers that slashing teacher assistant jobs would make it harder for his schools to meet the goals of the reading program.

It wasn’t the only contradiction in Berger’s presentation.

He talked about the need for accountability in education and criticized people who “only want to fund new programs” and then touted the creation of Opportunity Scholarships, the new voucher scheme that diverts money from traditional public schools to almost entirely unaccountable private schools and religious academies.

Even prominent Republicans like Rep. Leo Daughtry have publicly raised questions about the schools receiving taxpayer money. Apparently Berger thinks that this new and unaccountable program is fine. Other new programs are the problem.

There was also the inevitable spin about teacher pay raises, as Berger said legislative leaders were intent on “attracting, retaining and rewarding the highest quality teachers.” And he pointed to last year’s pay raise as evidence that the state was moving in the right direction.

Berger did not mention that many veteran teachers did not get a raise last year or that 70 percent of teachers didn’t get a raise this year either, only a one-time $750 bonus. Lawmakers did raise starting teacher pay to $35,000 a year, a step in the right direction, but that doesn’t do anything for the best veterans teacher Berger says he want to reward and retain.

Berger also forgot to mention that that lawmakers abolished the nationally-recognized Teaching Fellows program that helped steer bright college students into the classroom or that lawmakers considered but did not fund a new teacher scholarship program to replace it.

He also had some tough words for the schools of education in the state, saying that they need to be fixed or scrapped altogether.   He didn’t explain why or suggest how to fix them or talk about the growing teacher shortage in the state that $750 bonuses will not help address.

He did cite the school grading program as another success. That’s the system that gives schools an A-F letter grade based on a formula in which 80 percent of the grade is based on test scores and 20 percent on how much a school improves from year to year.

Ninety-seven percent of the schools that received a grade of D or F were schools with more than half of their students qualifying for free or reduced lunch, making the grading system more an indicator of poverty that a measure of academic achievement.

No matter how much low-income schools improve from year to year, they will still struggle to avoid a stigmatizing D or F grade. Even many conservatives have supported changing the formula, but Berger and other Senate leaders refused. Low-income schools will be branded a failure and that’s that.

And finally Berger said that the state needs a dialogue about public education, about things that are working and not working.

Good idea. Maybe we could start with the two virtual for profit charter schools that opened in North Carolina this fall. A national study funded by a pro-charter foundation recently found virtual charters are performing so poorly that year to year gains math were so small that it was “literally as though the student did not go to school for the entire year.”

That sounds suspiciously like one of those new programs that people always want to fund without trying to find out what works.

Berger didn’t mention overall education funding very much, probably a wise decision considering the state’s fall in national rankings of per-pupil expenditures and teacher pay.

He ended his talk saying that we need to learn best practices from those in our education community.

Here’s one. Support the folks working every day to help children learn—teachers, TAs, administrators, and support personnel. Pay them decent wages, give them the materials and funding they need to succeed and stop stigmatizing them with arbitrary and misleading grades.

And it means respecting them too. A good place to start would be to stop comparing them to manual typewriters.