An insomniac public servant's ramblings on education, music, politics, Atlanta Braves baseball and more.
Background Illustrations provided by: http://edison.rutgers.edu/

A few great resources for History teachers…

docsteach.org 
Set up a free account and get access to time-period specific lesson plans complete with primary source-documents (hand written letters, photographs, news footage, etc) made available by the National Archive. Lessons give an overview of topics covered as well as Blooms Taxonomy stuff. 

Reading Like a Historian 
This Stanford U. created resource provides pre-made lesson plans with primary documents, video clips, discussion questions, group activities and assessments. 

historyteacher.net
Super-ugly website with super-helpful links, content, lesson plans, activities, assessments, etc. 

sunnylandclassroom.org

Civics-minded website with graphic organizers, videos, primary documents, activities, etc. 

Lecture Point US History

Well-made pre-fabbed powerpoint presentations that are broken down by common-coreish topics.

On Education in North Carolina

Things are bad in my home state, folks. I’ll bring up specifics and cite specific legislation as it relates to North Carolina’s public education system and its teachers, but first here’s an overview of the ongoings in the NC Legislative Building in Raleigh. 

This won’t be objective, but I’ll try to be fair. 

With four more years of a Democrat in the White House, a solidified base of conservatives managed to oust a large number of Democrats at the state level in NC, giving Republicans a super-majority (filibuster-proof) in the legislature. With this super-majority, conservative leadership, many of whom whose campaigns received large-scale funding from NC’s version of the Koch Brothers, Art Pope, began making a highly organized, fast, concerted moves to push the state to the far right. The first big move was the passage of Amendment One, a law that made it unconstitutional for the state to recognize gay marriage and civil unions (there was a ton of controversy over this one). Otherwise Republican efforts have largely mirrored the party line (de-regulation, tax breaks for corporations, voter ID, slashing funding for planned parenthood, making it harder to collect unemployment and Medicaid), with intermittent never-gonna-pass initiatives like attempting to establish an official state religion (surprise: it’s Christianity). 

One of the most disappointing developments has been how state conservatives have chosen to stick it to education. Provisions in bills that live or die with the signature or veto of newly elected governor (R)Pat McCrory include:

  • cut teacher allotments by $286 while allowing no raises for teachers
  • decrease teachers assistant allotments by $142 million
  • cut general education funds by $75 million
  • increases in class size
  • removal of additional $100 million from NC public schools to pay for a new private school voucher system

The voucher system is either a joke or a creation of evil genius. Through the program, families with students qualifying for free or reduced lunch (roughly the poverty level) could qualify for up to a $4,300 voucher to send a child from the family to a private school of their choosing. How families should choose which child this should be is unclear. Also unclear is why families struggling to put food on the table would ever “cash in” on this voucher when for many families, it wouldn’t nearly cover tuition (much less uniforms, books, transportation to school, school lunch) at many private schools. While the voucher debate was active in session conservative think-tank website johnlocke.org released an article that in part detailed the surprising affordability of NC private schools, stating average tuition was near the maximum allotment of vouchers. The problem with providing an average is that it doesn’t account for the fact that tuitions vary widely based on location, quality of the school, etc. As stated in a Charlotte Observer blog, private schools in Mecklenburg Co., for example, vary in tuition cost from $3,200 to $21,800 . The Observer article also found that the average true cost of private schools in North Carolina were actually significantly higher than the Locke article reported anyway. 

The point here is that it seems that many for many families, especially those with multiple children (or for many living in the largest county in the state), the voucher allotment isn’t nearly enough. The voucher system also assumes that students can simply enter a private school because they want to, but who is to say they’d be admitted? Private schools can turn students away. But I digress. The most interesting aspect of all of this is summed up in this question: if the voucher system is inadequate for many (most?) NC families, what happens to the chunk of $100 million paying for unfulfilled vouchers? 
I asked this question to several secretaries of my districts representatives (Davidson County) and most assumed that the state pockets the leftover voucher dollars. If this is true - and I do mean if - I can’t find official word on this question (I’m a teacher, not an investigative journalist - the voucher system is essentially an income for the state disguised as an educational aid for high-need families. Even if it’s not, it’s still a miserable idea. 

This post has run long and I apologize. I want to wrap it up with a couple more numbers. Before any of this legislation (God forbid) becomes law, North Carolina is already 46th in the US in the amount it spends on teachers and 48th in the US on the amount it spends per-pupil. How can anyone think it’s a good idea to reduce education spending more? 

Anyway, here’s a link to an open letter I wrote to my Senator on the plight of public education in my state. Sorry if this post got preachy, but my career is at stake.

Take care, do good work, and always keep in touch. - Garrison Keillor 

Open Letter to NC State Senator Stan Bingham

This letter was mailed June 4, around the time SB374 and HB944 were sent to appropriations. Please forgive formatting issues. 

Senator Bingham,

Hello, my name is Seth Sosebee.

I’m writing to express my concerns for the republican-pushed legislation in the NC House and Senate over the last few months. 

I am going to express exactly how I feel as clearly and respectfully as I can, but I am very upset.

I’m originally from Lexington, but I’m currently living in Charleston, South Carolina while finishing a Master of Teaching program at The Citadel. Once I graduate this winter I aim to move back to North Carolina, perhaps to your district, to be closer to my family and girlfriend, and to find my first teaching job. 

I am a 27-year old Eagle Scout, a proud graduate of Elon University and soon I’ll have my first advanced degree. After graduating college I entered a year of service, working as a full-time volunteer with Americorps and City Year. I worked many 60+ hour weeks, was paid well below minimum wage, operated with no budget, and developed and implemented curriculum for a service-learning program for 150 middle school students with only the help of other volunteers. Since then I’ve worked in retail, construction, landscaping, food and beverage, division-I college athletics, minor league baseball, I’ve been paid to write blogs and I’ve even sung at a couple of weddings.

I’ve given other career possibilities a long hard look and decided that over all, I’d rather teach.

The average age of North Carolina teachers is 45, but the largest age group segment is in their late 40’s to mid 50’s. Those teachers will be retiring very, very soon

I’m exactly the type of teacher that should be taking their place, and there are thousands more just like me. We are mature, experienced, intelligent, and highly educated potential teachers literally begging for a chance to do a selfless job. It’s the only thing we want to do. As for me, I’ve lived outside of my state, away from family for far longer than I’ve wanted to and want to come home very badly. But the place I most want to teach doesn’t seem to want to have me.

I can speak for nearly every teacher I know when I say recent education legislation gives us pause on whether or not it’s a smart career decision to teach in North Carolina. It seems that our educational system (which is still very strong) is being sacrificed for budgetary reasons or party-line agenda reasons. 

None of this is for the betterment of the education system. In fact it will clearly damage it.

The following legislation causes great concern for us. I’m providing the bill/measure and it’s consequences, then an explanation of our disagreement in the italicized text: 

  • legislation will/would 
    • Senate Bill 374 End the limit/cap on class sizes
      • A quick Google search shows that by in large, nearly everyone (teachers, principals, super-indendents, “experts”) are in agreement that keeping class sizes small is crucial. 
      • Class size has profound implications in testing performance, creativity
    • HB 944 Lower what annual income range constitutes need for free or reduced pre-K school, and free or reduced lunch
  • This is clearly injurious to 15% of your constituency
  • Example: 
    • If we assume that a school lunch costs, on average, between $3-$5 and that school breakfast costs between $1-2, then we conclude that each family with children receiving free lunch have been saving  between $4-$7 per day, per child. 
    • Per child, families saved between $20-$35 per week.
    • $80 - $140 per child, per month
    • Therefore, if these cuts come to fruition, republicans would essentially be adding between $240 and $420 to the budget of a family of three, and this family was already financially feeble enough to have been eligible for free and reduced lunch. 
    • Essentially, these makes struggling families struggle much harder
  • New Budgetwouldcut teacher allotment by $286 while allowing no raises for teachers
  • decrease teachers assistant allotments by $142 million
  • cut general education funds by $75 million
  • NC teachers are already around $10,000 below the national average
  • We are now 46th in the country 
  •  in pay.
  • Why are teachers of so little importance in North Carolina?  

I know that North Carolina conservatives badly want a voucher system (HB944) in place to, as you say, strengthen school choice. I think this is fine, in some areas a voucher program could be helpful. However, paying for those vouchers by removing $100 million from Public Schools is outrageous. 

Teachers feel like they’re staring down the barrel of a gun held by the very people they elected to office. Why are these draconian measures thought to be necessary and who doesn’t see that they’re immoral and will have awful consequences? Are teachers nothing more than operating costs??? 

Senator Bingham, the ongoings in the NC Legislative Building are terrifying for teachers. Frankly, we already make so little (46th out of 50 states in pay), and have so little to work with (48th of 50 in per-pupil funding). Our representatives are breaking our backs and driving us out of our home state. 

I’ve only looked up your voting record on a few of these, but not all. I’m sorry if you fill like you’re being lectured on things that you have nothing to do with. Regardless, you’re a member of the Republican Party and your party is making it even harder to be a teacher in North Carolina. 

Please look at these things from the perspective of teachers in our district. Please advocate for us. 

God bless and take care,

Seth Sosebee


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