Reflection: Growth as a thinker

In keeping this blog, not only did my knowledge on the subject increase drastically, but my thinking process in analyzing political topics improved as well. Prior to the project, my mindset directed me to take a glance at an issue, maybe weighing some of the pros and cons involved, and take a side fairly quickly. My beliefs on the education budget were naive; all I considered in forming my beliefs were the complaints I heard from teachers about their lack of pay, and the outcries of citizens frustrated with the NCGA’s disregard for educational support. This project taught me not only to consider all sides to an issue, but to take a step back and examine the measures that can or should be taken to resolve the issue. There are many opinions across the board about teacher pay, and determining which teachers deserve more compensation, but in the end the aspects of the issue that I found most interesting were those that analyzed potential solutions to the problem. These areas include research on merit-based pay effectiveness, and ideas about and examples of alternative pay determinants.

Considering all sides of an issue is extremely important, and although I knew this fundamentally, this project forced me to practice it when writing my posts. It is one thing to read about the effects of something like the recent education budget. It is another thing to consider the reasoning behind the contents of the budget, and it is yet another thing to consider the relationship between these sides and learn about the attempts to find a way to harmonize them, and that is what this project taught me. 

Class Links

Here are some of my classmates’ blogs, written on a variety of topics, that are interesting and informative:

http://ncvotingrights.wordpress.com/ — This blog follows the Voter ID bill that requires voters to present photo identification in order to cast a ballot. The blog examines the motives behind the legislation, assessing whether they were warranted or unwarranted, and explores the implications of the bill, particularly regarding potential limits to some citizens’ access to the polls. This blog is particularly interesting to college students, like me, who might experience changes in voting procedures as a result of the bill.

http://105education.wordpress.com/ — Another blog on the topic of education, this writer examines the recently passed education budget in more facets than my blog. This blog explores in more depth topics such teacher assistant funding cuts, the new private school voucher system, as well as teacher salary issues. This blog is perfect for people wanting analysis of even more issues in the North Carolina education system. 

http://estoniansugar.wordpress.com/page/2/ — Tackling an even more controversial topic, this blog explores the repeal of the Racial Justice Act, which gave death row inmates a chance to appeal their sentence by claiming that they were victims of racial discrimination. The blog contains a plethora of statistical analysis of the issue, as well as a broader look at the death penalty itself and its efficiency downfalls. 

Links Post

Here are some links that I found useful in researching my topic:

http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2013/07/25/vouchers-gain-ground-public-education-loses-in-final-budget/

This blog leans to the left, and assesses the recent education budget passed by the NCGA, taking issue with the specific parts of it. This article was helpful in determining a baseline for liberal views on education funding issues in the state. 

http://nchouse8.com/state-education-spending-the-facts/

This page comes from a Republican NCGA representative, and provides the GOP’s justification for passing the education budget in the manner that it did. It was very helpful to my blog because it provided insight into the reasoning behind the legislation; it is impossible to analyze or criticize a political issue without knowing the reasoning behind it.

http://www.newbernsj.com/news/local/legislators-meet-with-educators-to-discuss-budget-cuts-1.207926?page=2

This link provided interesting material for my blog because it provided literal conversation between teachers affected by the NCGA’s legislation, and the legislators themselves. 

http://www.nea.org/home/36780.htm

I found the above link to be incredibly interesting. It outlines some alternative methods of determining teacher merit that are being implemented in other states. North Carolina should take notes.

http://educationnext.org/scrap-the-sacrosanct-salary-schedule/

This is a link to research done by a Duke professor who analyzes the teacher pay system and offers some insight on ways that North Carolina can improve teacher pay and still be fiscally responsible. 

The implications of leaving the education dilemma unresolved

There is no doubt that strong education systems lead to strong economies by increasing wages and specializing industries. Education is the backbone of society, and teachers are the backbone of education. Two integral parts to insuring teacher quality are making sure that teachers are satisfied with their jobs and their pay, and rewarding the teachers that are particularly good at imparting knowledge to their students. Both of these methods are shoddily implemented in North Carolina. Teachers are not satisfied with their wages, and lots of controversy surrounds methods for determining which teachers are high-performing. If these problems are not resolved, our education system will suffer greatly. Teachers will not have the motivation to put hard work into their jobs if they are not compensated properly, nor will they strive for better results if the system doesn’t reward the right teachers for achieving better results from students. If teachers continue to be assessed by their students’ standardized test scores, those students will only be good at regurgitating memorized material, and won’t possess the critical thinking skills vital to success later in life. The lack of this skill in future generations undoubtedly leads to declines in innovation, and a stagnant society. Only when teachers are measured by and rewarded for the hard work they put in at school will the motivation be present for becoming a better teacher. The days of strong education that breeds innovation instead of memorization will come when politicians think of long-term societal success instead of short-term budget issues when funding teacher pay. 

Theory Post: Teacher Pay

Teacher salary has been a very contentious issue in recent years. Though teachers perform a demanding job vital to our society, finding the money to reward them is difficult during times of economic hardship. Finding the balance between fiscal responsibility and investment in our students’ futures is not an easy task. However, it is a task that must be done, and it cannot sell our public education system short.

One way to be smarter about the education budget is to make sure money is going to where it needs to go, and where it should go. Eliminating bonuses for teachers with advanced degrees saves money. But taking that money out of education, or even putting it into other projects like the school voucher system, is a serious detriment to the system. Underpaid and unsatisfied teachers do not promote a healthy education system. Putting the money saved by cutting these bonuses back into the salaries of all teachers is a better idea

Recent legislation attempts a system that would reward “high-performing” teachers with pay increases. But there is simply no foolproof way to measure student success without making some bad teachers look good, and making some good teachers look bad because of their students. Some states have set up other methods of measuring teacher quality that use the teacher as the measured variable, not the students. Though new, these programs seem to be working well. North Carolina should watch these systems closely, and take notes. In the meantime, our broken education system should find a way to cut fat from some parts of the budget, and put that fat back into the salaries of our teachers. 

Back to vouchers…

As I’ve said before, many citizens and teachers have expressed frustration over the fact that the state government has set aside funds to give private school tuition vouchers to low income families. The main frustration comes from the feeling of distrust that the program evokes- the state assembly’s distrust in the public school system, that is. 

Opponents of the program contend that the money used for vouchers, despite the fact that the program will technically save the state money in the long run, should in fact be invested in the ailing school system in the short run. I myself am skeptical that the money will find its way back into education at all; the money cut from teacher bonuses for attaining advanced degrees certainly did not. 

Furthermore, voucher programs in other states have been met with many obstacles and failures. Due to the religious nature of many private schools, separation of church and state lawsuits have defeated voucher systems in some states, since in some cases, taxpayer money goes straight to a religious institution. To avoid this, some voucher systems find a loophole in “neovouchers,” where instead of the taxpayer money going straight to the families that are sending their child to the private school, the family, or the school receives tax credits from the state equalling the amount of the original voucher. 

Many instances of fraud, including use of voucher money for cars and jewelry, have occurred in other voucher systems, like in Milwaukee and Florida. Some schools reported more students than they actually had in order to cash in on the tax credit checks, and other schools showed evidence of mistreating their students.

The moral of the story is this: voucher systems, regardless of supposed economic frugality, puts state money in the hands of institutions that the state has little to no control over. In addition, it is hard to ensure that the money actually benefits the students at all: test scores from other states’ voucher system do not indicate that voucher students outperform their public school counterparts.