Teacher Walkout Ignores North Carolina’s Crisis of Student Achievement
A clenched fist. Take one look at the logo for North Carolina’s May 1 teacher walkout and you get the message being sent by activist educators and the main organizer of the protest, the state affiliate of the National Education Association (NEA), the country’s largest teacher union.
For a second year, those aligned with the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE) insist on creating school-day hardship for hundreds of thousands of parents and kids. They’re taking delight in their disruption, keeping a tally of closed public school districts for the aptly named “All Out for Public Education” demonstration. Each new addition is cheered. “So why shut down the schools?” asks an activist in an April 21 letter to the editor of the Raleigh News & Observer. “To tell the state and the nation that there is a public school crisis right now in our state.”
That’s true. But our crisis has little to do with the list of demands union officials have published in advance of the walkout. Those who think so have sadly missed the point of being an educator. Look into the eyes of a child who can’t read her book or solve her math equation, and you will come face to face with North Carolina’s education crisis. Student achievement is dismal and has been for years. NCAE/NEA demands for money and power will do little to improve the achievement prospects for these fragile kids.
Results from state achievement tests administered last year show that only 56 percent of elementary and middle school students were proficient in math, and just 57 percent were proficient in reading. Since 2014, math proficiency has increased by just over 5 percentage points, but reading has gained only a single percentage point.
That’s not the worst of it. A mere 42 percent of economically disadvantaged elementary and middle school students are proficient in reading, and around the same percentage reached math proficiency. Shockingly, only around four of 10 African-American students in elementary and middle school grades are proficient in reading and math. Within both these subgroups, far fewer earn scores that equate to college and career readiness. Think of what’s ahead – and not ahead — for these boys and girls as they become men and women.
This crisis of our kids seems lost on activists who drown out the voices of those who do see the real issue. Rather than invite collaboration by presenting a list of measures to jumpstart achievement and restore hope to our most vulnerable, union leaders published a list of demands that would cost billions to implement and likely have negligible effects on performance.
Among the items on the list, they ask state legislators to provide a $15 minimum wage for all school personnel, 5 percent raise for all support staff, teachers, and administrators, and a 5 percent cost-of-living adjustment for retirees. The minimum wage and employee raises would require over half a billion dollars in new state spending each year. And a 5 percent cost-of-living adjustment for retirees would add $240 million a year, plus add a $2.5 billion unfunded liability to the state’s retirement system.
The NCAE also demands the state legislature restore advanced degree compensation discontinued in 2013, a reform supported by decades of empirical research that consistently found teachers with master’s degrees were no more effective than those without. Rather than reward a select group of teachers with the credential, lawmakers in the Republican legislative majority redirected that funding to boost teacher pay for all teachers. After five consecutive years of base salary increases, North Carolina’s average teacher salary reached nearly $54,000 this year, a 20 percent increase over that period. At the same time, state-funded health insurance and pension contributions have surged. A sixth consecutive teacher pay hike is almost guaranteed.
What about the kids being left behind? What about their tax-paying parents? These massive union-backed demands would require the General Assembly to impose unconscionable burdens on taxpayers today and for generations to come.
North Carolina activists are feeling emboldened after last year’s walkout, when 42 school districts canceled classes for the "Rally for Respect.” Over 1 million children, two-thirds of the public school students in North Carolina, were told to stay home, creating untold hardships for parents that had to forgo hourly wages to care for their children on what should have been a typical instructional day.
Now the “Rally for Respect” has morphed into a clenched fist rather than an outstretched hand. If denying our most vulnerable kids instruction time is the union blueprint for improving student achievement, they have revealed how out of touch they really are.